Here's a brief rundown of the upcoming difficult stretches by month:
- 13-14: @ Cleveland, then on the very next night, @ Boston. Melo has always played Lebron well, but I would not expect them to win both of these, and be happy with a 1-1 split.
- 19-21: @ San Antonio, then two days later, @ LA Lakers. With Tony Parker out for at least two weeks with a sprained ankle following last night's drubbing by the Heat, this may not be as tough as it initially appears. I think the San Antonio game will be very winnable, but only time will tell if Chauncey provides the direction this team needs to beat a very good Lakers team. I expect a 1-1 split.
This is probably the most difficult stretch in the entire Nuggets season. 10 straight games against much improved opponents who are easily all playoff caliber, including surprising NY Knicks.
- 13: The Nuggets kick things off on this Murderer's Row with a home game against Golden State. I expect they will be fired up at a chance for redemption following their loss @ Golden State with an 18 point lead. This should be a winnable game for the Nuggets with the continued growth of Nene and Chauncey working his way into the Nuggets' system.
- 15-20: @ Dallas, @ Houston, Cleveland, @ Phoenix - two back-to-backs in a row against some much-improved teams. Dallas will be seeking revenge in their house following the tight loss against Denver last night, and Houston at home with Yao, Artest, and McGrady is going to be very, very tough.
Two nights later, they play a solid Cleveland team with LeBron, followed by a trip to the desert to play against Nash and Shaq. I think the Nuggets can take both of these games, but after their Texas two-step, they may be worn out. I would expect a 1-3 result on this trip.
- 22-23: Portland, @ Portland. These two games are going to be absolutely critical for the Nuggets. Portland is a greatly improved team this year, and Oden will probably be back and ready to play at this point. Rudy Fernandez, a.ka. Spanish Chocolate, and Brandon Roy will both be very difficult matchups for Denver. However, I think Denver has a great chance in both of these games, particularly if Oden is not 100%, and expect Denver to prove they belong in the playoffs with a 2-0 record over Portland.
- 26-31: Philadelphia, @ New York, @ Atlanta, @ Toronto. This is going to be another tough stretch, but these are all very winnable games for the Nuggets. Our old friend Andre running the point in Philadelphia with Dalembert, Iguodala and Brand will be one tough game, even at home. I still think that Nene, KMart, Melo and Chauncey are a stronger matchup, and expect them to take that one. It's important not to overlook New York, especially with D'Antoni at the reins, but this is another winnable game. Atlanta is another story. Team Dime with Mike Bibby is going to be absolutely ridiculous this season, and are already showing how much improved they are with a 4-0 start. Smith and Childress are both incredibly athletic and will be very, very tough to match up with. JR and Melo will have their hands full.
Lastly, Bosh's Raptors are probably going to be a blip on the radar. I don't expect them to be able to match up with Melo, Chauncey, JR and Nene. The Nuggets are simply too athletic for a team that does not have many serious outside threats besides Bosh. I can easily see the Nuggets going 3-1 to close out December.
Keep in mind, there are going to be a number of games between these games that the Nuggets are going to have to win to expect to stay in the hunt for the Northwest Division title. However, it is clear to me that the stretches I have identified are going to be critical to the Nuggets' season. If the Nuggets can pull off my predictions, they will have gone 9-6 against some very tough teams.
As we move through the season, I'll post an analysis of January and February.