The elevation changes that helped elevate Denver to the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference playoffs are in stark contrast to the same changes that have seen the Los Angeles Lakers and Cleveland Cavaliers fall to the second and third seeds in the East, respectively.
Denver is only the third team to reach the NBA Finals since the league’s modern format was introduced in 1992 and the Nuggets were one of those teams.
As Denver’s win total has risen to more than 20,000 points this season, the Nuggets have started to feel comfortable with their defensive game, which has helped the team maintain the top seed.
Denver is also one of just two teams in the NBA to rank in the top 10 in defensive efficiency this season (Portland and San Antonio rank in that category).
Denver has held opponents to just 91.5 points per 100 possessions, the second-lowest mark in the league behind Charlotte.
The Nuggets have also improved their field goal percentage from the field and from the free throw line.
Denver has gone from a field goal attempt percentage of 34.4 percent in 2016-17 to 36.4 and 36.6, respectively, this season.
The Nuggets also rank in both the top 15 in rebound percentage and offensive rating this season and are currently averaging 100.5 possessions per game.
Denver ranks fourth in the West in both of those categories.
This year’s Denver team is coming off a 20-game win streak, the first of its kind since the 1998-99 season.
That stretch was fueled by the return of three-time MVP J.J. Hickson, who was sidelined by a left knee injury that sidelined him for the first 10 games of the season.
Denver also added a pair of rookies in Trey Lyles and Wilson Chandler.
After starting the season in a 3-1 hole, the team has made some notable strides to regain the edge that it enjoyed at the beginning of the year.
Denver now ranks second in the conference in defensive rating and is ahead of the Cavaliers by more than 2.5 defensive wins this season after holding teams to a combined 38.5 in its first two games.
Denver’s defensive rating ranks fourth among teams with at least 150 possessions played this season behind only the Warriors (37.5), Oklahoma City Thunder (37), Brooklyn Nets (36.5) and Phoenix Suns (35.5).
The Nuggets are also improving their offensive rating from the floor and on the defensive end, which is up to 17th in the nation.
Denver, which was sixth in defensive net rating and seventh in offensive net rating in 2016, is also up to 11th this season in offensive rebounds per game (12.4) and ranks sixth in offensive rebound differential.
Denver ranks fifth in the country in defensive field goal percent and sixth in field goal shooting percentage at 53.5 percent.
It ranks sixth among teams averaging at least 100 possessions per contest at 58.7 percent.
Denver’s defense has also made a major difference on offense, which ranks seventh in the Big 12 in points per game at 19.7.
The Nuggets have gone from playing just 17.7 minutes per game to 26.2 per game this season on the road, which marks a drop of almost 30 percent.
Denver has averaged 106.7 points per contest, ranking seventh in NCAA Division I. The team is averaging 105.7 per game on the season, which leads the Big East and is tied for seventh in conference.