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Breaking down the Denver Nuggets second half schedule in-depth

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Here’s what to expect from the Nuggets in the second half.

Golden State Warriors v Denver Nuggets Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images

On Wednesday, the NBA released the entire schedule for the second half of the 2021-21 NBA season, which includes 36 total games, 20 at home and 16 on the road.

To further analyze what’s going on for Nuggets fans, let’s break down the schedule piece by piece.

Month by Month:

The Nuggets will play 11 games in March, 16 in April, and just nine in May (though in 16 total days).

There are no easy games in the NBA, but March features a relatively easy schedule compared to the other months. Though Denver opens up on the road against the Memphis Grizzlies, they quickly return home for a five-game home stand against several middle-of-the-road teams. The Dallas Mavericks and Indiana Pacers are the best of the bunch, but the Nuggets have an opportunity to string together a winning streak here. They then go on the road for a Gulf coast trip (don’t let the Toronto Raptors game fool you, they’re still playing in Tampa Bay) then return home for a rematch with Trae Young and the Atlanta Hawks.

The final game of March: a heavyweight showdown between Nikola Jokić and the Nuggets versus Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers. Two MVP candidates going at it (though not on national television for some reason).

In April, the Nuggets open up with a TNT game against the Los Angeles Clippers in Staples Center before returning home for another five game home stand: the Orlando Magic, Detroit Pistons, San Antonio Spurs twice in a row, and Boston Celtics will all make an appearance. The Nuggets need to win those two Spurs games, both at home and both against a team directly above them in the Western Conference playoff picture. Denver then alternates between road and home games against a mixture of good/average opponents before playing ANOTHER four game home stand: the Houston Rockets, Memphis Grizzlies, New Orleans Pelicans, and Toronto Raptors. This is another stretch Denver must take advantage of if they want to earn a higher playoff seed than where they are currently positioned.

Finally, Denver’s schedule in May leaves a lot to be desired. A five-game stretch features two national television games against the Los Angeles Clippers and Lakers in the same building, a brief return home to face the Knicks, a road tilt against the Utah Jazz, and a home game against the Brooklyn Nets. That’s a tough stretch of four in five games against the four best teams in the NBA right now. After that, Denver finishes with their only road trip longer than three games: a four-game trip in the last week of the season against the Charlotte Hornets, Minnesota Timberwolves, Detroit Pistons, and Portland Trail Blazers.

National Television games

The Nuggets will play six games on national television (not including NBA TV due to blackout restrictions in Colorado):

  1. Thursday, April 1st — Nuggets @ Los Angeles Clippers on TNT
  2. Monday, April 12th — Nuggets @ Golden State Warriors on ESPN
  3. Friday, April 23rd — Nuggets @ Golden State Warriors on ESPN
  4. Saturday, May 1st — Nuggets @ Los Angeles Clippers on ESPN
  5. Monday, May 3rd — Nuggets @ Los Angeles Lakers on ESPN
  6. Friday, May 7th — Nuggets @ Utah Jazz on ESPN

In terms of “advantageous situations” this is a pitiful opportunity for the Nuggets to drum up national excitement. All road games agains the Western Conference elite certainly feels like a disservice, but it’s also a major proving ground for the Nuggets to prove that they belong on the big stage in the first place. It will be interesting to see how the Nuggets handle these opportunities, especially the ones late in the year. Denver’s easiest games on their schedule come early, and if they take care of business, they will be in position record wise that they don’t have to win all or most of these contests.

Still, it’s interesting just LOOKING at that stretch of games. A true murderer’s row.

Back-to-Backs

The Nuggets have eight back-to-backs on their second half schedule, including six that feature traveling. The only two that don’t are on Denver’s two home stands in April, one toward the beginning and one toward the end.

Coronavirus has made life difficult for the entire NBA, and this is one of the areas in which the NBA has seen the most issues with the affecting of their schedule. The Nuggets will play two games in two days in two separate cities six total times in the second half, meaning they will have to be vigilant in their preparation and effort level. Several of these back-to-backs come against “good, not great” teams, and those teams will have the ability to push Denver and steal some wins here or there. The Nuggets must remain focused in these situations, or else they will find themselves in the play-in tournament at the end of the season.

Strength of Schedule

According to Positive Residual, the Nuggets have the third easiest schedule for their remaining games. This includes some contests to end the first half, but it should be a good sign that Denver can string together some wins during the second half of the year. Denver has several home stands, a lower opponent win percentage than normal, and (hopefully) the hunger to get right as a team.

If the Nuggets can right the ship, they will be in pretty good position toward the end of the season. The Jazz, Clippers, and Lakers are all likely to snag the top three seeds in the West, though it’s possible the Lakers could drop given their strength of schedule remaining. If Denver gets into the top five, they likely won’t have to face the Jazz, Clippers, or Lakers in the first round. Denver faced all three of those teams in the playoffs last season and had to weather a serious storm. Doing their work early, banking some wins against weaker opponents, and putting themselves in position to succeed in the playoffs will go a long way.

The games I have circled:

  1. Saturday, March 13th — Nuggets VS Dallas Mavericks
  2. Tuesday, March 30th — Nuggets VS Philadelphia 76ers
  3. Wednesday, April 7th — Nuggets VS San Antonio Spurs
  4. Wednesday, April 21st — Nuggets @ Portland Trail Blazers
  5. Saturday, May 1st — Nuggets @ Los Angeles Clippers on ESPN
  6. Monday, May 3rd — Nuggets @ Los Angeles Lakers on ESPN
  7. Friday, May 7th — Nuggets @ Utah Jazz on ESPN
  8. Sunday, May 16th — Nuggets @ Portland Trail Blazers