With last night's road victory against the Oklahoma City Thunder—a win that came on the second leg of back-to-back games—the Denver Nuggets quietly extended their win streak to 13. The Miami Heat, of course, have reached 23 straight wins with supernatural ease, and are understandably the bigger NBA story this month. The difference between what Miami's done and what Denver is doing, though, is worth mentioning: the Nuggets are winning not with star power, but with a full roster that's contributing in unique, invaluable ways. Denver's got depth.
But that word has always been a double-edged sword in the NBA. Sure, it's nice to have a team that is overstocked with talented players, but trying to find enough playing time for them can lead to second-guessing, disgruntled vets, and messy lineups that are fussed over to the brink of uselessness. But the Nuggets have sidestepped the usual pitfalls that come with having a deep roster, and have turned what is so often both a gift and a curse into the team's greatest weapon.
The Nuggets boast nine players that average more than 18 minutes and eight points per game, and the strength of their depth is borne out in how smoothly each of those players is able to step onto the floor and perform without a star player to center them. It's easy for a team like the Heat to get production out of its role players—LeBron James and Dwyane Wade can make anyone with a modicum of basketball talent look good—but no Nuggets lineup possesses a clear nucleus. The hierarchy of the team has been flattened, and each game is an opportunity for a different player to take the reins. One night will see Kosta Koufos out-grinding the Memphis Grizzlies to the tune of 18 points and 16 rebounds, while another will see Wilson Chandler coming off the bench and exploding for 35 points.
Last night's game against the Thunder perfectly demonstrated how adept the Nuggets have become at playing this particular brand of basketball. With four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, the Thunder had pulled within five points. This was the moment when most teams rely on a star player to seal the game. But Ty Lawson had cooled considerably since scoring 22 points in through first three quarters, Danilo Gallinari was 4-16 from the floor, and Andre Iguodala had spent the night bricking jump shots that were barely drawing rim. Enter Andre Miller.
Miller took over the game and rattled off nine points in the game's final two minutes, including two awkward, herky-jerky drives around the much younger Russell Westbrook that effectively ended the game. It's hard to imagine any other team yielding the floor to a 37-year-old backup point guard at the crisis point of one of the biggest games of the season, but the Nuggets aren't a normal team. They are a team that plays the game without worrying about how it should be playing it, and they are proving that a team without one hero is a team that has many.