If the NBA playoffs started today, Denver would host Memphis in the first round beginning April 22.
This matchup would appear to be good for the Nuggets, which won the regular season series 2-1. The Grizzlies are one of the NBA’s top defensive teams, in sharp contrast to Denver winning by scoring more points approach.
Denver can play defense, provided Marcus Camby and Kenyon Martin are healthy. If so, the Nuggets are an awfully enticing selection at 40-1 to win the NBA championship, according to the oddsmakers at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.
But, not all share that optimism.
"Denver is two players away from being able to compete in the West," said Mike Seba, basketball analyst at Las Vegas Sports Consultants. "The front line is not healthy and they have no guards."
Seba gives the Nuggets a slight edge over Memphis in a best-of-7 opening round only because of the homecourt advantage.
"Denver won a weak division," Seba said. "In my power ratings, I have Memphis about a point better. The teams are re-seeded after the opening round, so Denver would likely lose its advantage as a division champ."
The Nuggets are secure as the No. 3 seed by virtue of their commanding lead in the Northwest Division over Utah, which will be hard-pressed just to reach the .500 mark. However, Denver’s opening round opponent could easily change.
Memphis is in a battle with the Los Angeles Clippers for the No. 5 and 6 slots. It appears that Sacramento and the LA Lakers will wrap up the final two playoff berths with only a matter of deciding which one finishes seventh.
George Karl, when interviewed by ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith last week, said he would use Martin sparingly over the final five games to have him fit and ready for the playoffs.
Denver has two games left at the Pepsi Center — Saturday, April 15 against Sacramento and Monday, April 17 versus Houston. The Kings will have a lot at stake in that matchup, something bettors look closely at in games where motivation can be pivotal in covering spreads.
Here is the complete first round playoff picture in the West as it stood at press time.