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NBA Odds: The Denver Nuggets have a much tougher road to the finals

The Western Conference is going to be a battle every single night

Denver Nuggets Media Day Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images

Fresh off of a championship, the Nuggets are looking to do what no one has since 2018: go back-to-back. They are returning almost all their key pieces with two-time MVP Nikola Jokic looking for a third award. Denver still stands out in a stacked Western Conference, but their competition is going to be much more stringent. A title defense is not out of the question but it won’t come with an overly dominant regular season.

Denver Nuggets (Over/Under 53.5 Wins)

Key Adds - N/A

Key Losses - Bruce Brown, Vlatko Cancar (Injury)

Let’s start with the numbers. Since Jokic won his first MVP in 2021, the Nuggets have had a winning percentage of 65.5 percent when he plays. That means if he plays all 82 games (which he won’t), the Nuggets would be projected 53 wins. The historical numbers already have them behind the eight ball. For Denver to hit the 54-win plateau, they would have to defy three years of data. Are they capable of doing this? Certainly. They have the best player in the world and continuity with a team that just won the NBA Finals. The reality, however, is that not only is their division going to be tougher, but the West as a whole will have talent every single night. Every year the NBA grows in skill, which does not benefit the Nuggets’ win total.

Speaking of, there is plenty of talent to go around in Denver’s division. Oklahoma City is going to be a legitimate playoff team with the leap their young guys are going to take. Minnesota is in year two of Rudy Gobert where they get a version of Anthony Edwards who looked like a top 10 player in the league during the World Cup. Utah gets to give teams problems the same way they did a year ago. Portland has retooled and is not going to be a night off, despite the loss of star point guard Damian Lillard. Denver may dominate these teams on some nights, but it would not be surprising if they lost six to eight of the 16 games they play in their division.

Then if you zoom out, the teams in the West got better as a whole. Phoenix is the most notable, but everywhere you look teams improved on the margins. Dallas has new pieces, the Clippers are healthy (for now), and Sacramento and Golden State will be competitors again, to name a few. It’s hard to see any team in the West winning 54 games next season quite frankly, but Denver has the best chance. Despite the likelihood that the Nuggets will lead the conference again, it will be with 53 wins or less.

PREDICTION - Under 53.5 wins