On Tuesday the NBA schedule-makers handed our Denver Nuggets a reasonably favorable 2011-12 schedule. Of course this happens when the 2011-12 season may not happen at all.
Should the 2011-12 NBA season actually include 82 total games, our Nuggets are in prime position to get off to a good start. With 16 of their first 20 games taking place at home and an NBA-tying second-lowest 17 back-to-back games (with just eight of those being against 2011 playoff teams), the Nuggets won't be able to use scheduling as an excuse.
Additionally, the Nuggets will be on national television 19 times ... but really it's like 14 times as five of those "national" appearances will be on NBATV, whose cable and satellite penetration remains low.
Early signs of the ongoing 2011 NBA lockout point to the NBA having a truncated 2011-12 campaign, akin to what happened during the last lockout in 1998-99 when the NBA conducted just 50 games. Others are expecting the NBA to lose the entire 2011-12 season while the owners and players squabble endlessly over a new collective bargaining agreement.
But until actual NBA games are missed, we have only the 82-game schedule to go by.
So rather than get caught up in how many games the NBA might miss next season, which ones would actually be played, and so forth, let's look at the 2011-12 NBA season that could be for our Nuggets...
Among their first 13 games of the new NBA season, the Nuggets get to play nine at home, with their home opener taking place on Saturday, November 5th when Golden State and new Warriors head coach Mark Jackson comes to town. That's the good news. The bad news is that six of those nine home games are against teams that made the playoffs in 2011, including division rival Portland, NBA Champion Dallas (that still sounds weird, doesn't it?) and Eastern Conference powerhouse Chicago as the second game of the Nuggets' first back-to-back. And none of the Nuggets' four road games will be easy as they have to play at Portland, at Oklahoma City, at the Lakers and at the Clippers in November.
Save the Date: Even though the Nuggets will face the Mavericks, Thunder, Lakers and Blazers in November, there is no game bigger than the one "scheduled" to be played on Wednesday, November 16th when Carmelo Anthony and the New York Knicks make their lone trip to Denver. (I'm sure the conspiracy theorists are already up in arms about the NBA scheduling Melo's return to Denver early in a season that's likely to get postponed.) Should the next NBA season start on time, Melo's first game at Pepsi Center while wearing a Knicks' jersey is going to be great theater, especially after Nuggets head coach George Karl's post-Melodrama comments are dredged up for a week straight on ESPN leading to the game.
The Nuggets complete a rare seven-game home stand to open December and soon thereafter embark on a five-game road trip, including a brutal back-to-back at Dallas and Memphis (it should be noted that the Nuggets played very well against Dallas last season, with and without Melo). Bizarrely, the Nuggets play Sacramento, Philadelphia, the Clippers and Utah twice apiece (home and away) during December. That means the Nuggets play the Clippers three times in a 17-game span between November and December if you're scoring at home. But more interestingly, we get our first look at Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love playing together when Minnesota comes to town right before Christmas on December 20th.
Save the Date: By the end of the 2010-11 campaign, the Nuggets had been thoroughly leap-frogged by the division champion Oklahoma City Thunder - both in the standings and in head-to-head matchups. As we all know the Thunder beat the Nuggets six times in seven games, including a hard-fought first round playoff series that saw Oklahoma City need only five games to best Denver. The Nuggets could use a confidence booster against the Thunder early in the 2011-12 season, and perhaps they'll get it by beating the Thunder in Denver on Thursday, December 1st.
The Nuggets have six games at home and nine on the road in January, including their lone appearances at Eastern Conference powers Boston and Atlanta, and their first of two visits to San Antonio. The Nuggets also get Milwaukee, New Jersey, Golden State and Toronto at home, so at the very least they're guaranteed to win four games in January.
Save the Date: Nuggets fans got screwed last season when the Miami Heat brought their "Big Three" to Denver on January 13th but only two - Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh - actually showed up as Heat star LeBron James sat out the contest due to a minor injury he sustained the night before against the Clippers. Worse, neither the Nuggets nor the Heat announced James' absence until tip-off so that more seats could be gobbled up at the last minute. Oddly enough, the Heat are scheduled to play at Denver on January 13th again next season. And assuming James doesn't succumb to a Friday the 13th jinx, it will be fun booing the crap out of the would-be King for 48 minutes straight.
After navigating through a moderately challenging schedule in early February, the Nuggets will play at Dallas, at Oklahoma City and then home against the Lakers and Spurs before the 2012 All-Star break. Not exactly the four teams you want to face when your players have their mid-season vacation on their minds.
Save the Date: They may have been unceremoniously swept by the Mavericks in the 2011 playoffs and have since hired Dr. Bunsen Honeydew as their head coach, but the Lakers remain the Lakers and as long as Kobe Bryant can play basketball at an elite level, the guys in purple and gold are a must-see for NBA fans. The Lakers will make two appearances at Pepsi Center next season with the first taking place on Tuesday, February 21st (surprisingly not a nationally televised game.)
In early and mid-March, the Nuggets will play a four and three-game home stand with just one road game in-between before embarking on a franchise record eight-game road trip when the NCAA Women's Final Four comes to Pepsi Center in late March/early April. March features three pairs of back-to-back games and five home games against teams that played in the 2011 playoffs, including NBA Champion Dallas making their second and final appearance in Denver. The biggest road game of the month takes place on the 28th when the Nuggets make their annual trip to New York to play the Knicks in Madison Square Garden where Knick fans will warmly greet Danilo Gallinari, Timofey Mozgov and Wilson Chandler (if Chandler is still a Nugget). And the New York media will have a field day with whatever off-the-cuff comments Karl makes about Melo before game time.
Save the Date(s): Saturday, March 17th and Monday, March 19th, should be circled in the calendar as that's when Boston and Dallas, respectively, come to Denver to kick off the spring. It's rare when two possible NBA Finals opponents play back-to-back in your home town.
The Nuggets begin April with the always unsuccessful Orlando/Miami two-step (I mean, have we ever won those two games in a row?!) and return home after the NCAA Women's Final Four to play five out of their final seven games at home to close the 2011-12 season. Among their final five games, the Nuggets will play Oklahoma City and the Lakers at home and the Lakers on the road at Staples Center. Certainly not the easiest way to end a season.
Save the Date: In a scheduling rarity, the Nuggets will (in theory) complete the 2011-12 season by hosting the Lakers at Pepsi Center on Wednesday, April 18th.
There you have it, the 2011-12 season that would-be, could-be and should-be except for the fact that I (and I suspect many of you) have little faith in the NBA owners' and players' ability to get a new collective bargaining agreement ironed out before November. And what a shame, because it sure would be fun watching the Nuggets play those first 16 out of 20 games at home.
*For a terrific look of the proposed 2011-12 NBA schedule among all 30 teams - including back-to-backs, nationally televised games and so forth - be sure to check out HoopsWorld's Jason Fleming's breakdown.