Will Barton reflects on progress made by Nuggets in the playoffs


The Denver Nuggets are tied to the playoffs. With a 114-105 win in Boston on Monday, they clinched a playoff spot for the first time since 2013, the last step in their progression from a punching bag to a competitor in the making.

There are several ways to measure the progress made by the Nuggets over the last five years, be it the offensive (Denver is fourth in offensive efficiency), the road record (17-16) or even the All-Star selection (Nikola Jokic was the team's first representative this year since Carmelo Anthony in 2011). All these answers are worthy. But questioned Saturday on the progress of this franchise, Will Barton evaluated it by going in a different direction: the local crowd.

"I remember the first time I was traded here," Barton said. "Nobody was at the games. It was silent as a church mouse. When there were people, they were looking for the other team. Losing was not fun. For us, coming so far is very satisfying. I was here from where we are now. "

The Nuggets rank 12th at home and have an average of 18,491 fans per competition, which is no small feat compared to their past. When Barton was traded here in February 2015, only 14,700 fans came out every game – the third total in the NBA. Denver had lost his way trying to move from the George Karl era. Two weeks after Barton's arrival, the Nuggets sacked Karl's successor, Brian Shaw, and they finished season 30-52.

"G and I (Gary Harris) talk a lot about it, "Barton said of his debut in Denver.

Barton and Harris are the oldest players in the lineup. In their first three seasons in Denver, the Nuggets ranked 28th, 30th and 30th. The fact that fans are finally coming together is a testament to the work of Michael Malone, Barton, Harris and others to rebuild this franchise from scratch. Saturday's win against Indiana was the 23rd full day, compared with 14 in 2017-18 and four in 2016-17.

This support has helped the Nuggets go 30-6 to the Pepsi Center this season, the NBA's best home record. They are 9-3 against the other seven teams currently playing in the Western Conference playoffs. They also hammered the Lakers 117-85 on Nov. 27 during their only trip to Denver this season.

"We do not want converts," Malone said afterwards. "You are with us or against us. We understand that when we play against these great teams, LeBron is arguably the best player of all time. And when he comes to town, the Lakers, their fans wear. But as long as their fans go home disappointed, that's all I'm interested in. Warrior fans can come here. Celtic fans can come here. Laker fans can come here. But take this L out.

The Nuggets have been growing steadily every year since Malone's takeover. They won 33 games in his first year at the helm, 40 in his second game, 46 there is a season and are now 47 to 47, with 13 games to play. Nikola Jokic, responsible for 21 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists in the decisive win for the playoffs, went from an unknown second-round pick to a superstar under his watch. Jamal Murray, Malik Beasley and Monte Morris have also evolved into essential spinning parts.

And then there are Barton and Harris, the only two players who preceded the arrival of Malone. Harris does not have good memories of his rookie year. He did not play much. Less than a month after his professional career, the Nuggets were booed after giving up 84 points in the first half to the Trail Blazers.

"One time, we got booed outside the court," Harris said late last season. "Now, to see the stands filled and everyone applaud:" Let's go, nuggets. "It's an incredible feeling."

Barton, Harris and Malone are as responsible as anyone else for the change of culture in Denver. They had been there since the beginning of this race. Barton and Harris were both bench players when Malone took over. Now, one is the starting striker of the team and the other, the shooting guard of Denver.

Barton had a lot of contenders this summer in free agency. In fact, he rejected larger bids to return to Denver with a $ 54 million four-year contract. Barton took less money because he wanted to see this reconstruction through.

"That means a lot," said Barton about the playoff playoff, "That's why I've re-signed here, that's why I came back, I'm proud to finish this." I started and understood everything.It was very important for me to come here and try to change the culture here. "

These days, the Pepsi Center is a noisy environment. Bringing Nuggets' fans attention has not been easy. But Barton and his teammates have done more than make Mile High basketball respectable once again; they had fun.

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