Let's take an in-depth look at the Nuggets upcoming 2010-11 season schedule. Otherwise known as "what game will be Carmelo Anthony's last in a Nuggets uniform?"
As the days go on with Carmelo Anthony being eerily silent about his contract situation, it doesn't give Nuggets fans a lot of comfort that he'll be with the team past the 2010-11 season. And just today, CBSSports' Ken Berger is "reporting" that Melo "has already told confidants this summer that he's eager to explore playing in New York ", whatever that means. Of course, should Melo indicate an imminent departure anytime before the mid-February trade deadline, look for Nuggets management to sign-and-trade our lone superstar mid-season.
But we'll have ample time on this site to debate Melo's future (or lack thereof) in Denver as summer burns to an end. For the purposes of this schedule breakdown we'll assume Melo sticks around for the upcoming season as having him on board makes for some very intriguing matchups.
Before getting into key dates to keep an eye on, let's first dive into the particulars of the Nuggets schedule and compare it to their presumed competition for Western Conference playoff seeding (many thanks are owed to the folks at NBA Stuffer for compiling this schedule data so quickly)...
BACK-TO-BACKS (ON ROAD)...
Portland Trail Blazers: 22 (18)
Houston Rockets: 21 (16)
Dallas Mavericks: 20 (17)
Denver Nuggets: 19 (15)
Utah Jazz: 19 (11)
San Antonio Spurs: 18 (14)
Oklahoma City Thunder: 17 (14)
Phoenix Suns: 16 (8)
Los Angeles Lakers: 15 (14)
4 GAMES IN 5 NIGHTS...
Dallas Mavericks: 3
Denver Nuggets: 3
Portland Trail Blazers: 2
Utah Jazz: 2
Houston Rockets: 1
San Antonio Spurs: 1
Oklahoma City Thunder: 1
Phoenix Suns: 1
Los Angeles Lakers: 1
3+ DAYS REST...
Denver Nuggets: 8
Utah Jazz: 8
Portland Trail Blazers: 7
Houston Rockets: 7
Los Angeles Lakers: 7
Dallas Mavericks: 6
Phoenix Suns: 6
Oklahoma City Thunder: 5
San Antonio Spurs: 4
On balance, the Nuggets schedule isn't as tough as last season's when they were granted a Western Conference high 22 back-to-back games (although it should be noted that the Nuggets got to play a disproportionate number of teams playing their own back-to-back when visiting Pepsi Center). This season, the Nuggets rank fourth among the west's elite in total back-to-backs, are tied for first for playing four games in five nights but are also tied for first with the most three-day breaks. So while I still strongly advocate for schedule balancing in the NBA and a drastic reduction of back-to-backs to 10 games per team, the Nuggets 2010-11 schedule doesn't strike me as being more difficult than their competition's.
Not surprisingly, the Lakers once again have received the fewest back-to-backs as well as the fewest four-games-in-five-night occurrences of any NBA team. However, the Lakers will face two of the most arduous road trips for any NBA team: twice the Lakers have to go on the road for seven straight games and will play 17 of their first 29 games away from Staples Center. Things balance out (and then some) for the Lakers when they get to play 11 of their final 15 in Los Angeles. Don't be surprised if the Lakers are firmly ensconced as the Western Conference's number one seed well before the All-Star break with the other eight relevant western teams - the Nuggets, Mavericks, Thunder, Rockets, Spurs, Trail Blazers, Jazz and Suns - playing for second place.
First things first, let's hope the 2010-11 season begins with a big "Welcome Back George!!" cheer from the Pepsi Center crowd as Nuggets head coach George Karl returns to the sidelines for the first time since recovering from throat and neck cancer treatment. If Karl - as expected - returns, this will be a very emotional and uplifting night for Nuggets fans.
For the second season in a row, the Nuggets will open at home against the Jazz to kick off the 2010-11 season and will hang yet another Northwest Division Championship banner in the Pepsi Center rafters. Non-Nugget fans may find this comical but, hey, these are the only banners we've got when it comes to pro basketball in Denver!
After playing Utah on a Wednesday night, the Nuggets get their first back-to-back at New Orleans and then at Houston. Considering the Rockets will be in the mix among the west's elite all season long, I wish that back-to-back was the other way around.
Can't Wait Game: Opening night versus Utah (10/27). Nuggets fans get to welcome Karl back and get their first look at free agent signee Al Harrington. And, unfortunately, the "will-or-won't-Melo-stay?" conversation begins in earnest.
Toughest Game: At Houston (10/30). The Nuggets play their first of 15 road back-to-backs against a much improved Rockets team in Houston.
November gives the Nuggets a chance to jump out ahead in the Western Conference standings early. Except for two games against the Mavericks within the first week and an at-Chicago, home against the Lakers and at-Portland game later in November, the Nuggets have eight very winnable games that month, five at home.
Can't Wait Game: Versus LA Lakers (11/11). Like last season, the Nuggets and Lakers face off early in the season in a nationally televised game. Unlike last season, the Lakers won't be playing the second of a back-to-back and will actually try to win the game for more than just the first half.
Toughest Game: At Indiana (11/9). The Nuggets have become experts at losing games like this over the years. When facing the lowly Pacers, the Nuggets will be playing their third game in four nights and will have just played at Dallas and at Chicago.
November's favorable home schedule continues into December when the Nuggets open the month with three straight home games against very beatable competition (Milwaukee, the Clippers and Memphis) before going on the road for a four-game east coast trip. During December the Nuggets also host NBA elites Orlando, San Antonio and Portland and have three of their tougher road games - at Boston, at San Antonio and at Oklahoma City.
Can't Wait Game: At Oklahoma City (12/25). The Nuggets play their first of four games against their much improved, feisty division rival...an on Christmas, no less. Many "experts" will pick OKC to overtake Denver this season and for Kevin Durant to overtake Melo as the Western Conference's best small forward. The Nuggets have an opportunity here to prove the "experts" wrong.
Toughest Game: At Boston (12/8). The Nuggets make their lone trip to Boston on the second of a back-to-back after playing at Charlotte the night before...and the Celtics will be on two days rest. This one will probably be ugly.
January serves the Nuggets a four and a three-game home stand, but also sends them away for their longest road trip of the season (a brutal five away games in just seven nights from January 25th through January 31st even though the competition will be all non-playoff contenders). January will test the Nuggets home cooking, as well, as the Rockets, Suns, Heat, Thunder and Lakers are included among their nine visiting opponents.
Can't Wait Game: Versus Miami (1/13). The NBA's most infamous traveling circus will arrive in Pepsi Center for a TNT-showcased game in mid-January. Miami will have played at the Clippers the night before, making this a winnable game for the Nuggets who get to remain at home for a week before the Heat arrive.
Toughest Game: At New Jersey (1/31). Remember that whole five games in seven nights I just mentioned above? Well, the fifth game is at New Jersey...or, more aptly put, at Newark...where the Nets may be thin on talent but new coach Avery Johnson will have them playing hard.
The Nuggets reward for playing five road games in seven nights back east are two straight home games against the Blazers and the Jazz. Gee, thanks David Stern. The rest of the month is a mixed bag of competition, including a second back-to-back at Houston and a brutal home-versus-Boston followed by a back-to-back at Portland later in the month.
Can't Wait Game: Versus Boston (2/24). The reigning Eastern Conference champions arrive at Pepsi Center with a full day's rest, so this should be a great game. The NBA seems to think so, too, as it will be televised by TNT.
Toughest Game: At Portland (2/25). After playing late into the night against the Celtics on Thursday, the Nuggets get to travel northwest to face off against a rested Blazers team the following Friday night. Unless the injury bug takes down the entire Blazers roster by this point in the season, you can already pencil this one in as a Nuggets loss.
As the 2010-11 NBA season approaches the spring, the Nuggets are faced with a three-game western road trip followed a few days later by a four-game southeastern road trip, their most difficult of the season in terms of the competition they'll face. March does serve up five easy home dates, however, with the visiting Spurs being the only challenging home game all month long.
Can't Wait Game: At Miami (3/19). No one will hate the Heat more than me, but you have to admit they'll be fascinating to watch. Fortunately for the Nuggets, when they "take their talents to South Beach" their opposition will be playing the second of a back-to-back. Unfortunately...
Toughest Game: ...when the Nuggets play at Miami they'll also be playing the second of a back-to-back, having played at Orlando the night before and at Atlanta three nights earlier. I just hope Nuggets management has them flying out of Miami after the game before jeopardizing the remainder of the season thanks to too much partying.
The 2010-11 season concludes with five road games out of eight final games. And four of these road games are no picnic: at the Lakers, at Dallas, at Oklahoma City and at Utah to finish up the season. If the last three seasons are any indication, every one of these games will count as the Nuggets jockey for their Western Conference playoff seeding. April could also feature Melo's last game in a Nuggets uniform if he decides to "LeBron" us during the summer of 2011 and jettison Denver for New York as many who follow the league are suggesting.
Can't Wait Game: At LA Lakers (4/3). Believe it or not, the NBA only scheduled three Nuggets/Lakers games in 2010-11, and with two of them at Pepsi Center the Nuggets don't have to play in LA against the purple and gold until early April.
Toughest Game: At Oklahoma City (4/8). I have a sneaky suspicion that the Thunder and Nuggets will be deadlocked record-wise by this point, and this Friday night game will give one team a crucial playoff tiebreaker with just three games to play in the regular season.
As I say every year, if you don't take nights off in November and December when the NBA hands you winnable home games with a favorable schedule, then end-of-season games don't have to be "must wins". Unfortunately, this is a concept that this current incarnation of the Nuggets failed to grasp last season.
But regardless of how it pans out, the 2010-11 season can't get here fast enough. Now I just to figure out which games I'll be going to...
Photo courtesy of AP: David Zalubowski