Six games in the first eight days of the season? A nine-game homestand in March; a seven-game road trip immediately after?! Let's dissect what's sure to be the weirdest Denver Nuggets regular season schedule ever...
Back in July, we looked in-depth at what would've, could've, should've been the 2011-12 Denver Nuggets regular season schedule. At the time, we were collectively excited about Carmelo Anthony's return to Denver in November while wearing a Knicks' jersey, in addition to other key games on the schedule: like the first matchup against the Thunder, the arrival of the Heat, the always-hated Lakers return to Denver, and so on.
Some of the dates and games from the original 2011-12 NBA schedule have remained the same (like the Heat arriving in Denver on January 13th) but, of course, many others have been thrown out. Notably Anthony's return as a Knick, a shocking and unacceptable omission by the NBA's schedule-makers. And I was so looking forward to our up-tempo Nuggets running a sure to be out-of-shape Melo out of the building early in the season. Oh, well. Next year.
So let's dive into the 66-game, 2011-12 schedule that the NBA has put together for us and point out some key dates, oddities, and the like...
The Nuggets open December at defending NBA Champion Dallas on Monday, December 26th (and remember, there was one Western Conference team who had Dallas' number last year ... ahem). With Mavericks owner Mark Cuban pledging that the Mavs will not receive championship rings when they face the Heat at Dallas on Christmas Day, does this mean that the Nuggets will bear witness to the Mavericks' banner-hanging ceremony on Monday? To be determined.
The Nuggets then come home to face the new-look Utah Jazz on the 28th, our home opener, and conclude the month at Portland and at the Lakers. Opening the season - after a shortened training camp, no less - with six games in eight days is not going to be an easy start for our Nuggets.
Save the Date: Wednesday, December 28th. Home opener. Rival Utah Jazz. It's been a long time coming! It will also give Nuggets fans their first look at Jazz rookies Enes Kanter from Turkey and Alec Burks from the University of Colorado.
With the new schedule, the NBA bestowed upon Denver a rare home-and-home with the Lakers (at Los Angeles on Saturday, December 31st, at Denver on Sunday, January 1st). This will test the Nuggets' mettle immediately into the young, truncated season. Following the Lakers game on New Year's Day, the Nuggets get two more home games against very beatable opponents (Milwaukee and Sacramento) then travel south for a two-game, back-to-back road trip (at New Orleans, at San Antonio) followed by a four-game home stand that includes the Heat's lone visit to Pepsi Center on the 13th.
The Nuggets complete January with a five-game road trip, a two-game home stand, and conclude the month at Memphis on the 31st.
The good thing about January is that there are a lot of beatable teams on the docket: Bucks (twice), Kings (twice), Hornets (twice), Nets, Jazz, 76ers, Wizards, Raptors, and Clippers. That could be 10-12 wins right there.
Save the Date: Lots of save-the-dates in January! The Lakers visit Pepsi Center on New Year's Day and the Heat visit almost two weeks later on the 13th (let's hope LeBron James actually plays this time).
Of most interest, however, might be the Nuggets solo visit to Madison Square Garden on Saturday, January 21st to take on Anthony and the Knicks. You just know leading up to that game that Nuggets head coach George Karl will say something off-putting about Anthony to the press leading to a week of media nonsense and Melo forcing shots all game. And we get to see Chauncey Billups (if he's still a Knick) playing against Denver for the first time since the big trade, as well. Can't wait!
At first glance, you might think that February brings more balance to the Nuggets schedule. Eight home games. Seven road games. What's the big deal, right?
But upon closer inspection, not only is competition much stiffer than what we'll see in January, but the Nuggets open February with a back-to-back-to-back: at the Clippers, home against the Lakers, and at Portland.
Moreover, the February schedule includes another game against the Blazers in addition to games against the Mavericks (twice), Suns, Grizzlies, Thunder and Spurs. Oy. And lest we forget the Nuggets' three-game "murderers row" road trip at Dallas, Memphis and Oklahoma City from February 15th through the 19th, returning on the 20th with a back-to-back against the Timberwolves in Denver.
Interestingly, the Nuggets also play the Clippers in Los Angeles twice in February. And with the emergence of Blake Griffin, neither of those games are gimmes anymore.
The Nuggets will fight to play .500 ball in February.
Save the Date: Two big home games in February. The Lakers visit on Friday, the 3rd and the NBA Champion Mavericks visit on Wednesday, the 8th (followed by the very rare home back-to-back when the Warriors come to Pepsi Center on the 9th).
This is where the Nuggets schedule gets super weird, while presenting the opportunity for the Nuggets to rack up some Ws. After completing the Texas two-step (at Houston and at San Antonio) to kick off March, the Nuggets have a nine-game home stand. Nine?! Immediately followed by a seven-game road trip. This bizarre scheduling is the result of the lockout-truncated schedule combined with Denver playing host to the NCAA Women's Final Four at month's end.
Not only do the Nuggets get a nine-game home stand, but none of them are back-to-back games. So while the Nuggets will be forced to contend with the Grizzlies, Thunder, Celtics and Mavericks during that stretch, in theory they should be well rested and up for each game. And when the Nuggets do hit the road beginning on Friday, March 23rd for that seven-game road trip, opponents include the Jazz,Timberwolves, Raptors and Bobcats. All winnable games.
Save the Date: The NBA schedule-makers cheated the Nuggets a bit by making Denver play at Oklahoma City twice while having the Thunder come to Denver just once. I doubt the Nuggets will be close enough to the Thunder in the standings for this to make a difference, but you never know. Regardless, the Thunder's only appearance at Pepsi Center is on Thursday, March 15th. Perhaps Kendrick Perkins will try to kill a Nuggets fan, again.
After that seven-game road trip, April brings the Nuggets six home games and eight road games, including at Orlando, at the Lakers, and at Oklahoma City. All of the Nuggets home games in April are winnable - home opponents include the Suns, Warriors, Timberwolves, Rockets, Clippers, and Magic.
With the present uncertainty over the Nuggets roster, it's way too early to know what games will be must-wins for the Nuggets come April. But with only 66 games to play with, I suspect Nuggets fans will be on the edge of their seats wondering aloud about our playoff seeding throughout the NBA's final regular season month.
Save the Date: Blake Griffin makes his second Pepsi Center appearance on Wednesday, April 18th. Don't be surprised if the Clippers are fighting for a playoff spot when Griffin and his teammates come to Denver that night. Let's just hope they're not fighting with the Nuggets for that playoff spot, but rather playoff positioning.