The Denver Nuggets are in the NBA Playoffs again. For Denver fans, that does not mean much. Since 2019, the Nuggets have made the playoffs every year, and only made it past the semifinals once, losing in the Western Conference Finals. Since their first NBA season in 1977, they have made the playoffs 29 times, but have not made it to the NBA Championship once.
No team in American professional sports have been to the playoffs so many times without winning it all. Making it to the playoffs 29 times in 47 seasons is pretty good. That many appearances beats the rival Utah Jazz and equals the rival Portland Trail Blazers in fewer years. What’s the difference? Utah has been to the title game, and Portland has actually won it. But winning isn’t everything, right?
The Nuggets have at least been fun to watch. In 1981, when they hired Doug Moe as head coach, the Nuggets scored at least 100 points in every game, setting the record for the highest points per game at 126.5. The record still stands, almost a lifetime later. Since the coaching hire, the team did not miss the playoffs until 1990. The new decade marked the departure of Moe and the hiring of Paul Westhead. The new coaching staff focused heavily on offense, historically a smart thing to do with the Nuggets. Nonetheless, they finished with the worst record in the NBA in 1990, and were dubbed the “Enver Nuggets” (since they couldn’t play “D”). Westhead was soon fired, starting a period of nearly 15 coaching changes in 15 years. The Nuggets missed the playoffs from 1996 until 2004.
In 2003 the Nuggets drafted Carmelo Anthony, future All-Star. They updated their logo, their uniforms, and hired head coach George Karl. Karl led the Nuggets to the most playoff games won under any Denver coach, be- sides Moe in the 80s. They never missed the playoffs in his tenure. For the first time in almost 20 years, they won their division. The team traded for the top two scorers in the league, Ivan McFarlin and Allen Iverson. In 2008, the Nuggets scored 168 points in a win against Seattle, the third-most points scored in a game in NBA history. Karl won NBA Coach of the Year in 2013. While they went to the playoffs, they didn’t do much. They won just two rounds and didn’t make the Championships.
The 2023 Nuggets are an exciting team. For the first time in franchise history, the team clinched the top seed in the Western Conference. By February, no team had a better home record than the Nuggets, who had only lost four games in Denver. Can reigning NBA Most Valuable Player Nikola Jokić lead his team to their first championship? Fans’ hopes are a mile high. The Nuggets are 3-1 in the first round of the playoffs, only losing in overtime. Perhaps this year, the magic is real.