Thankfully, the NBA schedule makers didn't screw the Denver Nuggets with an onerous schedule for a second year season in a row and instead served up a very balanced schedule. Remember last season with those 22 of the first 32 games on the road and had those glut of bad opponent home games in January? This season, the Nuggets get to play eight of their first 15 games at home before embarking on a six-game east coast road trip against mostly crappy opposition. Moreover, the NBA handed the Nuggets a very reasonable 14 back-to-backs.
And in no single month is there a great imbalance between home versus road games (chart courtesy of Nate Timmons):
|Month||Home Games||Road Games||Total|
But despite that tough schedule last season somehow, someway the 2012-13 Nuggets managed to win an NBA franchise record 57 regular season games ... only to piss that incredible regular season away with a shoddy playoff performance against the 47-win Golden State Warriors. A playoff loss that sent immediate ripples throughout the organization from the top down.
Within weeks of that playoff upset, gone was NBA Executive of the Year Masai Ujiri. Soon thereafter gone was NBA Coach of the Year George Karl. And it didn't take long for free agent Andre Iguodala to bolt for (of all places) Golden State.
And somewhere along the way, Kosta Koufos and Corey Brewer left town, too, and in came Randy Foye, J.J. Hickson, Darrell Arthur and (egads!) Nate Robinson to overfill and already overfilling Denver roster. Oh, and Brian Shaw as the Nuggets newest head coach.
So with all those coming and going personnel moves, the 2013-14 NBA season should present a few more "save the dates" for Nuggets fans, making for a very intriguing regular season.
Let's breakdown how it all shakes out ...
OCTOBER / NOVEMBER
The Nuggets kick off the 2013-14 regular season with an at-Sacramento visit. For the life of me I can't remember the Nuggets ever opening a season in Sacramento, but that's of little consequence. On opening night (Wednesday, October 30th) the Nuggets will find a Kings team with renewed enthusiasm thanks to having a new owner and a new general manager (former Nuggets assistant GM Pete D'Alessandro), but a roster that remains a big time work in progress. Look for the Nuggets to open 1-0 (and maybe this should be our first STIFFS NIGHT OUT, too?).
When the Nuggets jump into November they get eight of 14 games at Pepsi Center, including a three-game home stand against the Blazers, Spurs and Hawks. That three-game home stand is followed by a pretty balanced schedule, with the toughest games being at Houston and at Oklahoma City in the middle of the month - two early road tests for our Nuggets.
Save the Date: Friday, November 15th
Timberwolves vs. Nuggets
Justifiably, Nuggets fans had a love/hate relationship with current Timberwolf Corey Brewer while Brew was suited up in a Nuggets uniform. Electric at (many) times, Brewer single-handedly bailed the Nuggets out of many games they had no business winning, simply by nailing three-point shots that any coach other than George Karl would probably never let Brewer shoot. Conversely, the fans' - and Karl's - faith in Brewer deteriorated quickly as he unraveled in that playoff upset against the Warriors. The "NO, NO, NO ... YES!!!!" regular season Corey Brewer disappeared and was replaced overnight with the "NO, NO, NO ... WHY IS HE IN THE @#$%& GAME?!!!!" Corey Brewer for that first round series against Golden State. SImply put, Brew killed us.
A season later, Brewer has re-signed with the first NBA team he played for - Denver's (pseudo) division rival Minnesota - and finds a franchise thinking playoffs for the first time since they appeared in the Western Conference Finals in 2004. Should Minnesota stay healthy, every game against Denver should be a tight one.
Save the Date: Saturday, November 16th
Nuggets at Rockets
When the Nuggets visit this will be the first true road test for the 2013-14 Nuggets. If there's anything we as fans can take away from an otherwise spectacular 2012-13 regular season, it's that the Nuggets stunk on the road ... and it showed come playoff time. The mark of a truly good 50-win NBA team is one that wins more than half of it's road games, not just a team that clobbers lesser talented teams at home. And among all the 50-win teams in 2012-13, our Nuggets posted the worst regular season road record. As such, I'll be interested to see how the Nuggets handle playing at Houston even though it's early in the season.
Save the Date: Friday, November 29th
Knicks vs. Nuggets
Even though the Carmelo Anthony "Melodrama" seems to fade farther and farther into the past with each passing day, we as Nuggets fans still haven't experienced a true "Melo vs. the Nuggets" game in Denver yet. After Melo was first traded, the NBA used the 2011 lockout as a convenient excuse not to schedule a Knicks at Nuggets game. And last season, we were once again cheated out of a true post-trade matchup as Melo used an injury to excuse himself from playing in the second half of a Nuggets blowout win over New York in mid-March.
Let's hope Melo is at full health this season when his Knicks arrive in Denver. And let's additionally hope that J.R. Smith has recovered from his knee injury fully by then. Although watching Smith playing on the Pepsi Center floor again doesn't have the same flair to it now that Karl is no longer supervising the Nuggets bench.
The Nuggets open December with a six-game road trip throughout the Eastern Conference that offers four very winnable road games - at Toronto, at Boston, at Philadelphia and at Washington (the other two games on that trip, at Brooklyn and at Cleveland, will be tough to pull out). When the Nuggets return to Denver, they get a four-game home stand with just one tough opponent (the Thunder) before hitting the road to play the Clippers in Los Angeles for the first time.
Interestingly, the Nuggets were spared playing on Christmas Day this year (meaning they are no longer considered a marquee team for the NBA). And they get to face the newly named New Orleans Pelicans twice in December, and wrap up the month against some pretty interesting opponents ...
Save the Date: Monday, December 23rd
Warriors vs. Nuggets
As if the Warriors first visit to Denver after trouncing the Nuggets in a first round playoff series that set the Nuggets on a radical off-season course correction wasn't enough, the Nuggets (arguable) best player in 2012-13 - Andre Iguodala - had the audacity to sign with "The Dubs" as a free agent, even though a) the Nuggets offered him more money and more years and, b) the Warriors have several players in place who play Iguodala's position. So it's not surprising that their first at-Denver matchup will be aired on national television in front of what is sure to be a rocking Pepsi Center crowd. But just as last season proved, any regular season victories against the Warriors mean nothing come playoff time.
Save the Date: Monday, December 30th
Heat vs. Nuggets
The Nuggets played the two-time NBA champs about as close as possible (without winning, of course) in both meetings last season, and when the Heat return to Denver for their lone appearance it should be another thriller. Making this game even more fun than last year's Heat game will be the return of Chris Andersen, who didn't sign with Miami until late January but had an immediate impact on the team. Believe it or not, The Birdman - one of the all-time fan favorites here in Denver - deserves a lot of credit for delivering the Heat's second straight NBA championship. I don't know about you, but I can't wait to see The Birdman back on the Pepsi Center floor.
Proving once again how balanced the Nuggets' 2013-14 schedule is, following a month that features six home games and nine road games is a month that features nine home games and six road games (compared to last January when the NBA delivered the Nuggets 12 of 15 games at home within the month). But like last January, the Nuggets get an assortment of weak opposition at Pepsi Center that they should feast on, including the 76ers, Celtics, Magic, Bobcats and Raptors.
And the Nuggets only have one back-to-back throughout the entire month, when they play at home against the Pacers before hitting the road to play the Kings towards January's end.
Save the Date: Friday, January 3rd
Grizzlies at Nuggets
Kosta Koufos may have flamed out in the playoffs, but so did a lot of Nuggets players. And Koufos - and former head coach George Karl - deserves a tremendous amount of credit for being a solid starting center for the entire 2012-13 regular season. In a somewhat surprising move, new Nuggets GM Tim Connelly traded Koufos on draft night to the Grizzlies for Darrell Arthur, as Connelly fundamentally believes that the game is going smaller and he needs power forwards who can hit mid-range jump shots. Let's hope Connelly is right and in the meantime, let's give KK a big welcome applause when he returns to Pepsi Center.
Save the Date: Sunday, January 5th
Nuggets at Lakers
Other than Phil Jackson, Lakers fans have wanted one and only one man to coach their team these past five or so years: current Nuggets head coach Brian Shaw. So it will be very interesting to see how Shaw is received by the Staples Center faithful when the Nuggets play the Lakers early in 2014. And by this time in the season, we'll know just how poorly the Lakers are playing.
Save the Date: Wednesday, January 15th
Nuggets at Warriors
Talk about a road test. Even by mid-January, the bitter taste of the Nuggets' 2013 playoff loss to the Warriors will not have worn off which makes the Nuggets first visit to Oakland a special one.
Playing just 12 games during NBA All-Star month, the Nuggets get a tough February-opening test when the Clippers visit Pepsi Center for a Monday night affair on February 3rd. Soon thereafter, the Nuggets hit the road for a four-game roadie at New York, Detroit, Indiana and Minnesota and after playing just once at home against the Suns, the Nuggets make their typical at-Milwaukee, at-Chicago visit after the All-Star break.
While visiting Chicago, watch for new Nugget / former Bull Nate Robinson to go guns blazing in front of his former teammates.
Save the Date: Friday, February 7th
Nuggets at Knicks
As mentioned above, for the time being whenever the Nuggets play the Knicks it has the makings of a special affair. By adding Robinson to the Nuggets mix this season, the Nuggets will be bringing another former New York fan favorite to Madison Square Garden alongside Danilo Gallinari, Timofey Mozgov and Wilson Chandler. (And this game might bring back memories of Robinson inciting the Nuggets vs. Knicks brawl of 2006).
Save the Date: Thursday, February 27th
Nets vs. Nuggets
Given the Thursday 8:30pm start, the NBA obviously felt this game could be a good one when Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and the new-look Nets make their lone trip to Pepsi Center this season. I don't know how wide Garnett and Pierce's "windows" are for contending for a championship, but just their presence brings a level of gravitas to a roster that most players cannot bring. I can't wait for this game!
With eight home games and nine road games, March presents an assortment of challenges for our Nuggets - particularly mid-month when the Nuggets make a five-game southeastern road trip through New Orleans, Charlotte, Orlando, Miami and Atlanta. The Nuggets finish the month with a "murderers row" of opponents so to speak when they play at Oklahoma City, at San Antonio and then home against San Antonio and Memphis to complete March.
Save the Date: Wednesday, March 19th
Pistons vs. Nuggets
You're probably wondering why I targeted this as a "save the date" game, but it's always special when Denver native Chauncey Billups returns to Pepsi Center and this season, he's back playing with the organization that he led to back-to-back NBA Finals appearances (including a title almost 10 years ago ... can you believe it's been 10 years??). It's too bad Billups' return can't make up for all the years of futility that the Pistons have experienced since his departure in the Allen Iverson-to-Detroit trade many years ago.
Save the Date: Monday, March 24th
Nuggets at Thunder
By this time in the season, we'll have a good sense for where the Nuggets might land in the Western Conference pecking order and this big road game at rival Oklahoma City will be a bellwether game. Last season, the Nuggets used a late at-OKC game as a catalyst for a terrific end-of-season run. Could that happen two seasons in a row?
If there's one glaring error with the Nuggets' 2013-14 schedule it comes in April when six of the Nuggets final eight games could be big losses during their crucial end-of-season playoff push - at Memphis, at Houston, home against Houston, at Golden State, at the Clippers and home against the Warriors to wrap up the season. Amazingly, the NBA scheduled two games for the Nuggets against the hated Warriors just six days apart. The Nuggets might be lucky to finish April .500 at 4-4.
Save the Date: Wednesday, April 9th
Rockets vs. Nuggets
I can't stand Dwight Howard and everything he represents, but that doesn't mean he won't be awesome in Houston. And I regrettably believe he will. By signing Howard, the Rockets vaulted ahead of the Nuggets in the pre-season prediction world and Howard's only visit to Denver in a Rockets uniform will prove just how far along JaVale McGee will have come by this time in the regular season.
Save the Date: Wednesday, April 16th
Warriors vs. Nuggets
Not surprisingly, the NBA made sure that Nuggets fans get to boo Iguodala twice this season ... with the second occasion coming at the very end of the regular season. And while I hope this game will have no effect on where the Nuggets end up in the Western Conference post-season ladder, why do I fear that it will?