'Melo-less Nuggets surge to No. 4

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The Nuggets' resurgence is the best story in the NBA, and there is the tantalizing prospect that it is going to get much, much better in the weeks ahead.

With Sunday's road victory against a Lakers team playing its best ball of the season, Denver continued to show signs that its feel-good saga might have staying power. But even if it doesn't, and the team loses in the playoffs to a formidable foe like Oklahoma City in the first round, it's worth taking a moment to appreciate what the Nuggets have accomplished.

A month into the season, many of the players in Denver's current rotation hadn't logged a minute for the Nuggets, as they were either sidelined by injury or playing for the Knicks. For half the year, the team was mired in nonstop speculation over where and when Carmelo Anthony would be traded.

But then, slowly but surely, forwards Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen returned, closely followed by the blockbuster deal that brought Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari and Raymond Felton from New York in exchange for Anthony. The lodestones of Anthony's indifferent defense and ball-hogging offense gave way to dedicated teamwork on both sides of the ball.

The results have been remarkable. In the 19 games since the trade, the Nuggets have eight players averaging between 10 and 17 points, with none of them playing more than 33 minutes per game. During that same 15-4 period, they rank second in fast-break points and lead the league in fewest fast-break points allowed. They are trouncing opponents in transition at both ends.

With a six-game winning streak, the Nuggets have cracked the top five of the Power Rankings for the first time all season. Denver faces the Thunder twice this week in a likely preview of what should be a glorious first-round playoff series.

(All stats and records are through April 4.)

NBA Power Rankings