The Teams: The Nuggets
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This team originated in Kansas City, and for a while were called the Rockets. No, they aren’t the Sacramento Kings or Houston Rockets; they are the Denver Nuggets.
The original Nuggets team was from 1948-50 was one of the original founders of the NBA. This current Nuggets team gained the nickname Nuggets in 1974 with the threat of a merger with the NBA and the potential conflict with the NBA’s Houston Rockets emerged.
In 1966 investors announced the formation of a new basketball league which would compete with the NBA. The new league, named the ABA, would not compete in the same markets, except Los Angeles and New York, but instead compete using teams in smaller market cities. A group of investors purchased a team for Kansas City, which was originally going to be called the Larks. But before the season could start arena conflicts and the potential of an NBA team moving to Kansas City forced the Larks to move to Denver; where they became the Denver Rockets.
The next season Spencer Haywood was allowed into the NBA, and signed with the Seattle Sonics. The face of the franchise, Walter Jones, would also leave that season. Losing both their stars the Rockets struggled heavily winning a then franchise low 30 games. They would lose the division tie breaker, which could have gotten them into the playoffs, to the Texas Chaps; now the San Antonio Spurs. The next three seasons were marginal at best for the Rockets. They would make the playoffs in both 72 and 73, but lose easily. In 74 they lost another tie breaker to miss the playoffs.
Going into the 74-75 campaign things didn’t look to bright for the Rockets, or the ABA for that matter. The league was suffering for attendance as the NBA had begun to really take off and was directly challenging it. With the threat of the collapse of the ABA, the Rockets had a naming contest for their franchise in hopes of one day joining the NBA. The name that won was Nuggets. The Nuggets also added Bobby Jones, Dan Issel, and David Thompson going into the season. The addition of these three stars helped the Nuggets have their best season ever as they won 65 games. The Nuggets would beat the Utah Stars in the first round before falling to the Indiana Pacers in the second round.
75-76 was the final year for the Nuggets in the ABA, as it was also the final year of the ABA. The Nuggets won 60 games behind their star trio and would make it to the ABA finals where they lost to the New York Nets.
Following the Finals loss, the Nuggets, New York Nets, San Antonio Spurs, and Indiana Pacers all joined the NBA. The Nuggets first taste of NBA basketball was great as the team quickly became one of the better teams in the western conference. Though they won 50 games their first year, playoff success continued to elude them in the NBA as they were dropped by the Blazers in six games.
Dan Issel is probably the most important face of Denver Nuggets basketball. He was the teams first NBA all-star, won the Citizenship award and eventually would become the teams head coach. Issel would remain with the team as it switched leagues and would finally retire, a Nugget, in 1985.
The late 70s say a decline in Nuggets basketball, as Jones headed off to Philadelphia. The team would struggle to close out the decade not making the playoffs the last two years.
As the 80s begun so did one of the best eras of Denver Nuggets basketball. In 1981 they hired Doug Moe as a head coach. Moe brought with him a "run and gun" philosophy, a style of play focusing on attempting to score rapidly with little interest in defense, and it helped the team become highly competitive. During the 1980s, the Nuggets would often score in excess of 115 points a game, and during the 1981-82 season, they scored at least 100 points in every game.
In the early 80s the Nuggets would add Alex English, Kiki Vandeweghe, and Fat Lever to their roster. The Nuggets offensive explosiveness and lack of defensiveness would be on full display in 1983 as they went into a triple over-time game with the Detroit Pistons, were they lost 186-184 in the highest scoring game in NBA history.
Though they scored 100 points in nearly every game, their defense was severely lacking. They could score 120 points easily but they’d also give up 125 the same night. Their inability to stop the opposing team hindered them from ever becoming a true title threat.
In 1984-85 the Nuggets had what is still their best season ever. The team was able to play adequately enough defense to win 52 games. They faced the Spurs in the playoffs and won in five games. In the second round, which had usually been their Achilles heal, they defeated the Utah Jazz in five games to make it to the Western conference finals, their first and only trip to the conference finals. The Nuggets offensive machine would meet its equal in the conference finals in the form of the Showtime Lakers. Like the Nuggets, the Lakers could score a lot of points. But unlike the Nuggets the Lakers could play very good defense. The Lakers would end up winning the series in five games.
The Nuggets would start to decline each season there after, except in 1988 when they won 54 games and the Midwest title. Issels retirement, and Vandeweghes eventual trading really hurt the Nuggets. They did however, manage to add good players like Walter Davis, who would keep them competitive.
Doug Moe left the Nuggets in 1990 and the bottom pretty much fell out. The team fell to the bottom of the standings winning just 30 games. Moe’s successor Paul Westhead also tried an up tempo style of ball, but his defensive schemes were horrible. The Nuggets became the worst team in the NBA in during his tenure.
After the 2002-03 season the Nuggets were tied with the Cavs for the worst record in the NBA. The Nuggets hoped to be able to get either Lebron James or Carmelo Anthony in the draft. The lottery balls wouldn’t go their way for James but they would for Anthony. The Denver Nuggets made Carmelo Anthony the third pick in the 2003 draft,
The addition of Anthony, and the signing of guard Andre Miller would turn around the Nuggets fortunes. In 2004 they made the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons. But would lose to the Spurs.
Playoff success has continued to elude the Nuggets, as they have not advanced since beating the Sonics in 94. Nor have they won an elimination game since 1988. One piece of success the Nuggets have found was their winning of the 2005 Northwest division, their first division title since 88 and 5th division title since joining the NBA.
The Nuggets had high hopes going into the 2006-07 season, but the season would turn out to be a roller coaster ride for the team. They started out 0-4 before finally starting to win, and right when it looked like they had righted the ship; they end up in a brawl with the Knicks; which lead to JR Smith and Carmelo Anthony both getting long suspensions. During this time the Nuggets made a blockbuster trade with the Philadelphia 76ers, trading Andre Miller and other for Allen Iverson. Iverson and Anthony didn’t get a lot of playing time together until after the all-star break, by that time the team was way behind in the divisional race. The Nuggets would close out the season playing very well but wouldn’t win their second straight divisional title. The Nuggets would win their first playoff game against the Spurs, and looked like they might have a chance in the series, but would drop the next four to be eliminated in the first round for the fourth consecutive year.