Since about 2000, there were few NBA tasks tougher than getting to the playoffs in the Western Conference. But even with a Mission: Impossible degree of difficulty, the Nuggets found a way to become postseason mainstays anyway.
In 41 NBA seasons, the Nuggets have made the playoffs 24 times. Outside of a stretch of nine straight playoff appearances in the 1980s, there was not a more memorable run of getting to the postseason than the Nuggets doing so for 10 straight years from 2003-13.
Playoffs became the most satisfying forgone conclusion.
During that time, the Nuggets:
-Won an average of 48.3 games per season. Remove the lockout shortened year of 2013-14 (38 wins), and that number jumps to 49.4 wins per season.
-Won at least 50 games five times, including a stretch of four straight 50-win seasons from 2007-11.
-Won a franchise-record 57 games in the 2012-13 season. No team was more dominant on its home court that season than the Nuggets, who walked out of Pepsi Center winners 38 out of 41 games. They outscored teams at home by nearly 10 points per game and won 21 straight at home to end the regular season.
-Advanced to the Western Conference Finals in 2009. In those playoffs, the Nuggets beat New Orleans by an NBA-record tying 58 points in a first-round playoff game.
The Pepsi Center never rocked the way it did during these 10 seasons, buoyed by the full tilt energy of a team that marched through regular seasons with the precision of a marching band. But if anyone claimed they could see any of this coming, that would be a hard sell.
The Nuggets had floundered since making the playoffs in consecutive seasons in 1994 and 1995. The drought reached eight straight seasons without making the postseason, the longest stretch in team history. But then the team’s fortunes changed in a blink of an eye. In 2003, the Nuggets selected Carmelo Anthony with the third pick of the NBA draft. The team never missed a postseason while he was in Denver.
Adding to Anthony’s greatness on the court was coach George Karl’s smarts on the bench. Hired during the 2004 season after the Nuggets sloshed out of the gate, he led them on a 32-8 march through the remainder of that season. The Nuggets never won fewer than 53 percent of their games in any season under Karl.
Surrounding Anthony was a fun cast of characters – the fiery Kenyon Martin, the fun-loving Chris “Birdman” Andersen, the big shot-making Chauncey Billups, the 3-point shot making J.R. Smith, the steady Andre Miller, and the constantly smiling Nene, among them.
All were as memorable as the wins they put on the court in a 10-year span no Nuggets fan will ever forget.