Nuggets match best start in franchise history with big wins

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Back in April, the Denver Nuggets came as close as a team possibly can to making the NBA playoffs — only to fail to do so. It took losing to the Minnesota Timberwolves on the final day of the regular season — and in overtime, no less — for Denver to see their hopes of making the postseason fall short by one game for a second straight year.

For the entire offseason, and throughout training camp, that memory — of falling one game short not once, but twice — has stuck with the Nuggets. It has haunted them.6

And, as this season has gotten underway, it has served as a constant reminder of what this young nucleus has yet to accomplish.

After a 115-107 victory over the Boston Celtics on Monday night, a win powered by Murray’s 48 points, the Nuggets are now 9-1 this season. That matches their best start through 10 games in franchise history (9-1 in 1976-77, Denver’s first NBA season after the ABA merger), and the Nuggets sit just a half-game back of the Toronto Raptors and Golden State Warriors for the NBA’s best record three weeks in. With wins over the Warriors and Celtics, they also have already landed signature wins against the preseason favorites to square off against one another in the NBA Finals.

So what has changed in Denver, and allowed the Nuggets to go from a frisky young team that is wildly entertaining, but only marginally successful, to become one that looks like — at least so far — a sure bet to finish the regular season with home-court advantage in the Western Conference playoffs?

The answer is simple: a commitment to defense — something that prior to this season had been virtually nonexistent.

“When you miss the playoffs by a game two years in a row, and your defense is in the bottom five and your offense is ranked in the top five, something’s got to give,” Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said. “You can’t be making the same mistake over and over.”