If you haven’t been watching much Denver basketball this season—and who can blame you, given the games are still blacked-out for most local cable customers—you’ve probably heard at least some of the buzz around the team. After all, the reigning champions are one of the favorites—if not the favorite—to repeat. That’s what the Nuggets will attempt to do over the next few months as the NBA Playoffs kick off this weekend.

Denver is anchored by the best player in the world (that would be Nikola Jokić), and all five starters from last year’s title-winning squad returned, so the expectations for this team are still sky-high. A grueling multi-month journey through the playoffs, however, still stands between the Nuggets and another parade through downtown. Below, seven things you should know about the team and keys to the Nuggets’ quest to defend their championship.

Nikola Jokić is him.

Nikola Jokic exits Ball Arena past an MVP sign.
Nikola Jokic walks off the court after defeating the Memphis Grizzlies at Ball Arena on April 7, 2022 in Denver, Colorado. Getty Images

Nuggets center Nikola Jokić (pronounced “yo-kich”) is massive, awkward, and goofy. He’s also the best passing center in basketball and arguably the league’s best player, a triple-double machine whose clumsy appearance belies his utterly dominant game. Jokić won back-to-back Most Valuable Player accolades in 2021 and 2022 (and was snubbed last season, but we aren’t bitter) and should nab a third this season, which would put him in the same conversation as threepeaters Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, and Larry Bird. Ever heard of those guys?

Few things represent the dichotomy between what Jokić looks like and his overall effectiveness better than what has become his signature move: the Sombor Shuffle. The maneuver, which gets its name from Jokić’s hometown in Serbia, involves him setting his 6’11” frame and “jumping” off his right leg—about high enough to slip a credit card underneath—before releasing a high, arcing shot that often finds the bottom of the net. Like everything Jokić does, the move is either the most or least athletic thing in the world, but, boy, does it work.

Even better? This season, Jokić has been as clutch as ever. If the Nuggets win another title, it will be due in large part to Joker, who continues to play basketball better than anyone else on this planet.

Jamal Murray needs to stay healthy.

Jamal Murray dunks on the Miami Heat during game one of the NBA Finals on June 1.
Jamal Murray dunks on the Miami Heat during game one of the NBA Finals on June 1. Getty Images

Let’s hope that right knee holds up because when Jamal Murray doesn’t play, the Nuggets are good, not great. This season, Denver went a very meh 13-10 without their sharpshooting guard. Without him in the 2021 and 2022 playoffs, the Nuggets made early exits. With him on the floor? Denver posted a 44-15 record this season, and in the playoffs last season, the team lost just four games en route to their title. In that run, the Blue Arrow averaged 26.1 points and 7.1 assists per game.

Murray missed seven straight games late in the regular season while dealing with right knee inflammation. He appears healthy heading into the playoffs, but maintaining that knee could determine the Nuggets’ fate.

“Take that L.”

Though Nuggets head coach Michael Malone perpetually looks like he just slugged 14 cups of coffee, he is actually pretty damn cool. So cool, in fact, that he dropped one of the greatest one-liners in modern league history in November 2018 after a Nuggets home win over the Lakers, which featured an alarming number of fans wearing the wrong colors. His message to all those Laker fans? “Take that L on the way out.”

Malone has had an opportunity to send that message to nearly every opposing fanbase over the past several years, as the Nuggets have become one of the best home teams in the league. This season, the Nuggets finished the regular season campaign with a 33-8 record at Ball Arena, tied with the Oklahoma City Thunder for second-best behind the Boston Celtics. Overall, the Nuggets went a ridiculous 57-25, which tied their best-ever mark for a season and secured them the second-highest seed in the Western Conference bracket in the playoffs.

The bench mob needs to show up.

The notable missing piece from last season’s title-winning team is backup guard Bruce Brown, who left via free agency. Brown’s ability to provide a steady hand and scoring punch when the starters were sitting was one of the keys to the Nuggets’ success during the 2023 NBA Playoffs.

Colorado Springs’ own Reggie Jackson has filled in for Brown admirably. The guard, who signed with Denver in February 2023, played all 82 games this season, averaging 10.2 points and 3.8 assists in a mostly backup role. The Nuggets have also leaned on second-year players Christian Braun (pronounced “brown”) and Peyton Watson (nickname: “Swatson”).

Here, a brief history lesson.

Alex English jumps to shoot over the Los Angeles Lakers defense during their NBA Pacific Division basketball game on January 8, 1985, in Inglewood, Los Angeles. The Nuggets won the game 126–124. Getty Images

While the Nuggets won their first and only NBA championship just last season, they do have a storied history. Denver was a regular in the playoffs during the 1980s (the Alex English years), qualifying nine straight seasons, a feat they bested between 2004 and 2013 (the Carmelo Anthony years) when they made 10 consecutive playoffs appearances.

The Nuggets have made five Western Conference Finals (losing three times to the Lakers, but sweeping them last year) and have helped produce 11 NBA Hall of Famers, including Allen Iverson, Dikembe Mutombo, and, of course, the small forward English, who you’ll want to look up before heading to any Nuggets watch party.

Say goodbye (temporarily) to the blackout blues.

Altitude Sports, the regional sports network that broadcasts Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche games, has been in a protracted legal standoff with Comcast since 2019. Essentially, Altitude and Comcast can’t agree on a deal that would let the cable giant carry local games, meaning only DirectTV and FuboTV customers have been able to watch a once-in-a-generation, two-time MVP winner lead the NBA’s best team on a nightly basis—which is a shame, considering more than 90 percent of cable customers in Colorado have Comcast.

The two sides reached a settlement last year, but it doesn’t include broadcasting rights for Nuggets (or Avalanche) games. This is good news, however, if you just now realized the Nuggets are competitive: You can claim you would have been watching all year long, if not for that damn Comcast thing. (And the NBA Playoffs are televised nationally, anyway.)

The road ahead.

Being a number-two seed doesn’t guarantee anything—particularly with the way the Western Conference playoff bracket unfolded. Denver will play a familiar foe in the opening round: the seventh-seed Los Angeles Lakers. The Nuggets have beaten the Lakers in seven straight, including their four-game sweep in the Western Conference Finals last year, but victory is far from guaranteed. LeBron James, one of the greatest of all time, still wears the purple and gold, and Los Angeles is out for revenge after Nuggets announcer Vic Lombardi took a few shots during last season’s parade.


If the Nuggets slip past the Lakers, things get scary: In the second round, the Nuggets will clash with either the 56-win Minnesota Timberwolves or star-studded Phoenix Suns. If they make it to the Western Conference Finals, the Nuggets will likely be greeted by the mega-talented, one-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder or the Luka Dončić–led Dallas Mavericks. Then, the Boston Celtics, who finished the season with the best record in the NBA, could be waiting in the Finals.

Jay Bouchard
Jay Bouchard
Jay Bouchard is a Denver-based writer and a former editor on 5280's digital team.
Shane Monaghan
Shane Monaghan
Shane Monaghan is the former digital editor of 5280.com and teaches journalism at Regis Jesuit High School.