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Nuggets Are Back in the Playoffs for the First Time in Six YearsEXPAND
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Nuggets Are Back in the Playoffs for the First Time in Six Years

Water bottle in hand, coach Mike Malone entered the Nuggets locker room following last night's victory over the Celtics ready to party.

"Hey, we don't got no champagne right now. We don't got no champagne. But we got some water. We ain't satisfied, but we're gonna celebrate tonight," Malone said before sparking a massive celebratory water fight with the team.

The Nuggets clinched a playoff spot for the first time since the 2012-2013 season and will battle in the Western Conference playoffs for a spot in the NBA Finals. That win, combined with a Warriors loss to the Spurs, also launched the Nuggets back into first place in the Western Conference.

"We are thirsty. We are hungry. We just want to go there and make something happen," said MVP candidate and Nuggets center Nikola Jokic following the game.

The Nuggets feel like a playoff team. Chemistry is high, and they play team basketball, whipping the ball around and hustling back on defense. Three-point shots are falling and players like Jamal Murray, Paul Millsap and Jokic are able to take over when needed. That's exactly how you win four games in a row.

It's also true that there's a lot of basketball left to play. Thirteen regular-season games remain, and first place can easily slip into a bad playoff seed.

But as long as the Nuggets continue to play at a high level, the team will enjoy home court advantage for at least two or three rounds in the playoffs. That's huge and can make the difference between an early exit and a potential run at an NBA Championship.

Naturally, there are doubts about the team's playoff readiness. The Nuggets are young, and many players have never experienced the pressure of playoff basketball. But players like Dwayne Wade were young when they won their first championship, showing that greatness can start at an early age.

If the Nuggets do finish the season out with a number-one seed locked up, Malone ought to be a coach-of-the-year candidate. The Nuggets came in ninth place last year in the Western Conference. This season, they're on par with the Warriors, a team widely considered to be the best in the league. Only an excellent coach can achieve that type of growth.

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