The NBA didn’t see them coming.
The 1984-85 Nuggets were coach Doug Moe’s fifth team in Denver. And while he’d had some success in other seasons, this one was his best to date. It marched to 52 wins and the second seed in the Western Conference playoffs. It was a 14-game improvement in the win column from the prior season.
The Nuggets were quiet assassins, blowing through the NBA with the league’s most potent offense, while mixing in opportunistic defense. This is what that looked like:
No. 1 in the NBA in points: 120.0 per game
No. 1 in steals: 10.9/game
No. 2 in field goals made (47.3/game) and attempted (97.3/game)
No. 3 in free throws (24.6/game)
No. 2 in offensive rebounds (16.2/game)
No. 8 in total rebounds (44.3/game)
No. 7 in assists (27.6/game)
No. 12 in blocks (5.2/game)
There were no advanced stats back then, but it didn’t take any to know those numbers were emblematic of a team that was one of the NBA’s best. Alex English (27.9) and Calvin Natt (23.3) led six Nuggets that averaged over 10 points per game that season. They scored at least 130 points in 14 games, and carried a 13-1 record in those contests.
The team wasted no time in getting themselves right to the top of the table. The Nuggets won 12 of their first 14 games, which included a stretch where they ripped off nine straight victories. They had four winning streaks of at least five games, and finished the regular season nearly as strong as they started it, with wins in 10 of their last 15. The Nuggets rolled.
And they continued that roll right into the playoffs.
In the first round, the Nuggets took down the San Antonio Spurs, featuring George “The Iceman” Gervin in five games. Despite the series going the distance, the Nuggets won their games by an average score of 127.3-107.3. And that included a 27-point victory in Game 5 to advance to the Western Conference semifinals against Utah.
The Nuggets only needed five games to dispatch of the Jazz, winning that series 4-1 and averaging 125 points on 49.5 percent shooting in the process. English averaged an eye-popping 30.6 points, 6.8 rebounds, 6.0 assists and 1.2 steals in the series. Next up: Magic Johnson’s L.A. Lakers in the Western Conference Finals.
And, unfortunately for the Nuggets, that’s when the injuries hit. English suffered a broken thumb. Natt, Lever and Mike Evans all played through knee ailments. The battered Nuggets eventually succumbed to the Lakers in five games.
And yet there was little disappointment in the season as a whole. The Nuggets maximized their talent and nearly rode it to the NBA Finals, a team that set a new bar of thinking of the franchise as a true contender.