NBA.com’s John Schuhmann just released an excellent, short article on the race for the 8th seed and the strength of schedule of the teams vying for that final playoff spot. He looks at the number of games left at home as opposed to on the road, the number of back-to-backs, the quality of opponents, and a few other key factors. It’s a really interesting article and well worth the five minutes it takes to read.
Here is what he had to say about the Denver Nuggets:
Similarly, if the Nuggets are going to hold onto the 8 seed, they need to take advantage of the next few weeks. After visiting Milwaukee on Wednesday, they will play seven of their next eight games at home, where they're 9-3 since Jan. 12. There are some good teams coming to Denver in that stretch, but five of those seven will be against teams playing the second game of a back-to-back. After that, their schedule get tougher and includes three games against the Pelicans, so it will be important for the Nuggets to have a decent cushion after March 18.
The article also had this graphic that highlights the upcoming schedule for all western conference teams.
Ed Kupfer makes data visuals and is obsessed with NBA schedules. He posted these two visuals on twitter last night.
The Nuggets have a pretty average remaining schedule
The Nuggets don’t have the most difficult remaining schedule, but they don’t have the easiest either. The Dallas Mavericks and Portland Trailblazers, the two most realistic challengers for the 8th seed, have slightly easier schedules than Denver. Portland is the only team in contention that plays more home games than road games going forward. They have 14 at home and just 9 on the road.
Denver plays just four more back-to-backs, including tonight’s game against the Milwaukee Bucks. Only the Dallas Mavericks play fewer. The Blazers have five and the Sacramento Kings have a league-high six back-to-backs remaining.
Denver has 12 games left against teams with a winning record. The Mavericks have just 10 such games left. Portland has 14 such games.
The Nuggets also play a bunch of teams in the middle of the pack. They play the Rockets three times, two of which are on the road. They also play the Thunder (more on them below), the Clippers, the Wizards, and the Celtics. Outside of those games, the Nuggets play pretty average teams and should be able to consider every game at least somewhat “winnable.”
The next nine games are so important
After tonight’s game in Milwaukee, the Nuggets begin a long homestand with seven of their next eight games at Pepsi Center. All seven of those home games will come after at least one day of rest for the Nuggets and, as Schuhmann mentions in his article, five of the seven opponents coming to Denver will be playing their second game of a back-to-back. Let’s look at that schedule a little closer.
The Hornets have really fallen off since the start of the year and are now three games out of the playoffs. Denver should be favored at home.
The Nuggets will look for revenge against the Kings and should find it since the Kings play a late, west-coast game at home before flying to Denver the next night to play the Nuggets. The Nuggets should be heavy favorites in that one.
The Wizards have been one of the hottest teams in the NBA over the last six weeks but they are also going to be coming to Denver on the second night of a back-to-back after playing in Phoenix the night before. The Nuggets may be slight favorites that night but it will be one of the toughest games in the homestand.
The Celtics will be the toughest matchup of the homestand. They will come in to Denver with a day of rest and Isaiah Thomas is a tough matchup for a team that can’t keep anyone in front of them on the perimeter.
The tables turn again when Denver will travel to Sacramento on the second night of a back-to-back. Denver can win this one but they have not been great on second nights of a back-to-back. This concludes the toughest three-game stretch of the homestand.
The Lakers are in full tank mode and will be playing in Denver after playing in Los Angeles the night before. This should be a blowout.
The Clippers are a very good team but Denver will have two days of rest while the Clippers will play the late game on ESPN the night before, prior to traveling to Denver.
Houston plays in New Orleans the night before and will travel across two time zones to play the Nuggets in Denver. The Nuggets have already lost once to Houston in Denver when Houston was on a back-to-back. They won’t do that again, will they?
On paper, the Nuggets can win all eight of those games. In likelihood, going 6-2 in that stretch would go pretty far toward locking up that final playoff spot. It’s a very important stretch for the Nuggets. All the more reason to buy tickets and, you know, actually go to the game and cheer them on.
The Nuggets can get lucky with teams resting at the end of the year
Seven of the last nine games of the year are on the road. That is an absolutely brutal way for a team to close out a playoff push, especially if they have not maintained a couple game cushion on the competition. However, the teams that Denver plays over that stretch might actually be in tank mode or rest mode by the time that part of the schedule comes around.
They play the Pelicans twice in the final two weeks of the season. The Pelicans are currently four games out of the playoffs and have yet to win a game since acquiring DeMarcus Cousins. If they are four or more games out by the time the two teams play for the first time on March 26th, they may be in full on tank mode, trying to race as far up the lottery board as possible. They play again on April 7th and it is fairly certain that the Pelicans will be mathematically eliminated by then and extremely motivated to lose. Imagine playing the Pelicans without Cousins or Anthony Davis.
Two of the Nuggets’ last three games are against the Thunder who are currently in a tight battle for the 5th, 6th, and 7th seed. If those seedings are locked up by the final week, the Nuggets could catch a resting Russell Westbrook, especially if he is just barely holding on to his season-long triple double average. Why risk falling below the average if the Thunder are locked into a seed?
Lastly, the Nuggets play the Mavericks in Dallas on the 11th. This could be the game of the year as both teams are very likely to be within a game or two for that final spot. However, if Dallas is eliminated by then, this could become an easier game.
There are a lot of interesting wrinkles to the remaining schedule but the overall theme is that the Nuggets control their own fate and might get an assist from some of the quirks of the schedule.