The Denver Nuggets' 2012-13 schedule leaves little margin for error. In the past, Nuggets head coach George Karl has told us to judge him on the team's first 20 games and the last 20 games. If that's still the case, Coach Karl has his work cut out for him as the Nuggets play 14 of their first 20 games on the road, and 17 of their first 23 games away from Pepsi Center.
OCTOBER / NOVEMBER
As soon as the 2012-13 NBA season begins, the Nuggets will be immediately tested. They open on Halloween at Philadelphia (where the Nuggets and 76ers played a thrilling overtime game last season resulting in a narrow Nuggets victory). And even though the 76ers have jerked with their roster all summer long (Kwame Brown will be their starting center ... really?!), they will remain a scrappy Eastern Conference playoff contender. Soon thereafter, the Nuggets play the in the Florida two-step of at Orlando and at NBA Champion Miami on a back-to-back Friday/Saturday. The first of 17 back-to-backs (not a bad number) on the season and the first of three back-to-backs in the first 10 days of the season!
The Nuggets' home opener takes place on Tuesday, November 6th when they host the sure-to-be-dreadful Detroit Pistons. That's one of just five home games for the entire opening month of the season. One of those games is against New Orleans, featuring first overall pick (and Olympian!) Anthony Davis making his at-Denver debut.
The good news is that of the Nuggets 17 October/November games, only eight feature opponents (Philadelphia, Miami - twice, Utah - twice, San Antonio, Memphis and the Lakers) who will contend for a playoff spot in 2013.
Save the (Home) Date: On Thursday, November 15th the NBA Champion Heat make their lone appearance at Pepsi Center. The Nuggets have handled LeBron James at home for a few years now and let's hope that continues.
Note the (Road) Date: Even though we all hate the Lakers, I think we have to collectively admit that we're excited to see Steve Nash play alongside Kobe Bryant. The Nuggets face the new-look Lakers at Los Angeles on Friday, November 30th (televised nationally on ESPN) ... I'm thinking Stiffs Night Out already!!
After a meaningless Monday night home game against Toronto, December sends the Nuggets on a five-game road trip that features three playoff caliber opponents - at Atlanta, Indiana and New York. Their fifth opponent on that road trip - Minnesota - could have been thinking playoffs if their general manager David Kahn wasn't so incompetent in giving away Michael Beasley, (drafting and then ...) giving up on Wesley Johnson and overpaying handsomely for Andrei Kirilenko.
But even after that five-game roadie, the Nuggets only get to play at Pepsi Center four more times in December, including games against Memphis, San Antonio and the Lakers. And the NBA all but guaranteed that the Nuggets would have a rotten Christmas and New Year's by scheduling them for a four games / five days tour at the Clippers, home against the Lakers and then at Dallas and at Memphis between Christmas and New Year's. The Nuggets basically finish 2012 by playing 20 out of 32 games on the road. Ouch.
Save the (Home) Date: The Nuggets biggest home game of December will be when Bryant, Nash and the Lakers invade Pepsi Center on Wednesday, December 26th - the day after Christmas.
Note the (Road) Date: Even though he has moved on to get crushed in first round playoff series elsewhere, Carmelo Anthony will always be the most notable individual opponent for the Nuggets. The Nuggets play Melo and his Knicks at New York on Sunday, December 9th.
Should the Nuggets survive 2012 with a semi-decent record, January presents an opportunity to pick up a plethora of home wins. Of the Nuggets 15 January games, 12 are being played at Pepsi Center (in other words, I need to stay in town throughout January). And many of the games are against walkover opposition, such as Minnesota, Orlando, Cleveland, Golden State, Portland, Washington, Sacramento and Houston. I should be careful what I say, of course, given how dreadful the Nuggets were at home last season.
Save the (Home) Date: The Western Conference Champion - and Northwest Division rival - Oklahoma City Thunder make their first of two trips to Denver on Sunday, January 20th. By this time in the season, I suspect the Nuggets will have no chance of catching them in the division standings but they could still send a message by beating them in Denver. Also, Nene Hilario makes his return to Denver with the Washington Wizards on Friday, January 18th. That assumes he actually suits up, of course (sorry, had to).
Note the (Road) Date: The Nuggets only play three road games all month, but two of them are biggies - at the Lakers on Sunday, January 6th and at Oklahoma City on Wednesday, January 16th.
The All-Star Game month features 12 total games with five at home and seven on the road, including a pre-All-Star Game, four-game road trip. The Nuggets have a chance to pick up some road victories throughout February when they visit opponents like Cleveland, Toronto, Washington and Charlotte.
Interestingly, the Nuggets will play the Celtics twice - at Boston and at Denver - within 10 days.
Save the (Home) Date: It's always a big deal when the Celtics come to town, which happens on Tuesday, February 19th. The Nuggets also get another visit from the Lakers on Monday, February 25th.
Note the (Road) Date: On Friday, February 22nd JaVale McGee makes his first appearance at Washington since being traded away from the Wizards.
The Nuggets play 15 times in March with nine games taking place at Pepsi Center. March will be a crucial month as the Nuggets start jockeying for playoff positioning and the schedule is very balanced that month: only 2 back-to-backs and good mix of tough and shoddy opposition throughout March.
Save the (Home) Date: The biggest game of the month - and perhaps of the entire season - will take place on Wednesday, March 13th when Carmelo Anthony finally plays at Denver for the first time since forcing a trade to New York during the 2010-11 campaign. With the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season saving Melo from having to come to Denver, much time will have passed since we last saw Melo playing basketball on the Pepsi Center floor. Given that it's been so long, it will be interesting to see how the fans react. Will they boo? Cheer? A mix of both? Regardless, I can't wait for that game!
Note the (Road) Date: The Nuggets have a super tough back-to-back on Monday, March 18th and Tuesday, March 19th when they have to play at Chicago and at Oklahoma City, respectively.
Just when every game will be supremely important as the Nuggets fight for playoff seeding, the schedule gets a bit difficult in early April. The Nuggets open the month at Utah followed by a back-to-back (at Denver) against Dallas. And just days later, the Nuggets host San Antonio and then have to play at Dallas.
If the Nuggets can survive the early part of April, they should feast off their final three opponents - Portland, Milwaukee and Phoenix - all sure to have down years.
Save the (Home) Date: If we've learned anything these past five ... 10 ... 15 years ... it's don't sleep on the San Antonio Spurs. Why would I not be surprised that when the Spurs visit Denver on Wednesday, April 10th they'll be competing for the first overall seed in the Western Conference again?
Note the (Road) Date: At Dallas on Friday, April 12th could prove to be a significant game. Even though the Mavericks lost out on Deron Williams, Jason Kidd, Jason Terry and probably Dwight Howard (for now), too, they've been able to surround Dirk Nowitzki with Elton Brand, Darren Collison, O.J. Mayo and Chris Kaman. If the Nuggets slip out of the top-four in conference standings, they could find themselves fighting with Dallas for a five or six-seed.
It will be fascinating to see if the overflow of road games bestowed upon the Nuggets early in the season turns out to be a huge positive or a negative that the team struggles to recover from. While January is filled with winnable home games, you'd hate to see the Nuggets depend on those games to get back on track after a shaky November and December on the road.
But if last season was any indication, this Nuggets squad - historically atypical for the franchise - is capable of winning consistently on the road.
Can they do it again throughout 2012-13?