After sparingly leaking dates over the previous week or so, on Wednesday night, the NBA announced the full season schedule for all 30 teams. For fans of the Denver Nuggets, it was time to preview one of the biggest seasons in recent memory. This team is loaded with a ton of young talent, and they’re primed to make some serious noise in a Western Conference that has firepower all over the place. If they can stay healthy, this team could realistically compete for a title this season.
Led by Nikola Jokic, the returns of Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr., along with additions made this offseason, are expected to boost this team’s production on both ends of the floor, and they’re going to need it. After winning 65.3 percent of their games during the 2020-21 season, they dropped to a win-rate of .585 last season. Games against lower-end teams slipped through their fingers, and they can’t afford to let that happen this year, especially considering some pundits have stated they have the “easiest” schedule of all 30 teams ahead of them.
While I have some qualms in terms of whether or not they actually have the easiest schedule, Denver can absolutely finish in the upper echelon of their conference and of all teams this season simply based on the talent of their roster. When we last saw a healthy starting trio of MPJ, Murray and Jokic, they were one of the best groups in the NBA. Between March 26th and April 12th of 2021, the date Aaron Gordon joined the team to the night Murray was injured against the Golden State Warriors, that trio was ninth in the NBA with a +21.8 net rating among trios with at least 100 minutes played and first among groups with at least 150 minutes played.
The Nuggets are slated to travel over 50,000 miles this season, which is largely due to their placement in the middle of the country. The NBA average distance traveled by team is down to 41,000 miles this season, which is 2,000 fewer miles than last season’s average of 43,000. That 50,000 miles of travel is 5,000 more miles than the average Western Conference team, and they get started on that travel right out of the gate with 13 of their first 19 games coming on the road. Of those 13 road games, six of the 13 are against playoff teams from last year. They also have games against the Los Angeles Lakers and LA Clippers.
For a team that has traditionally started slow in the Michael Malone and Nikola Jokic era, a gauntlet of road games out of the gate is not what you are looking for if you’re a Denver fan. Things start to lighten up as the season moves on, and January is a month where they really need to make their hay. By that time, Murray and MPJ should be fully integrated in the lineup, and they need to hit the ground running when the calendar flips.
During January, just five of their 16 games are on the road, and three of those come in their last four games of the month. However, while they have a lot of home games in that stretch, four of their five road games are against playoff teams from last year, including playing the New Orleans Pelicans and Milwaukee Bucks on back-to-back nights. A winning record in that month is the goal, but it will still feature plenty of tough tests.
The team will play 28 games across ESPN, ABC, TNT and NBA TV, which is a big win for those that are unable to watch games in the Denver area. Their first nationally televised game will be an October 21st matchup with the reigning champion Warriors on the road. However, if you remove their 12 games on NBA TV, their 16 national TV games gives them the 10th-most among all teams. Denver fans will have their chances to see their team play, even if their regional network is actively working against that happening.
Despite statements that their schedule is the easiest in the NBA, the Nuggets rarely have a stretch of games that features a ton of easy matchups. More often than not, due to the wealth of talent currently in the NBA, they’ll alternate games between strong and weak opponents, and the month of March is a perfect example. They’ll play 14 games in that month, including a five-game road trip to the East coast. They play just two games in a row against non-playoff teams from last season when they match up with the Detroit Pistons and New York Knicks on that road trip.
The season is going to be an absolute grind for every team, and, for a team that is going to need some time to get their feet under them after not playing together for a year and a half, they’re going to have to really work during the middle months of the season. When most teams are worn out and just trying to get by, Denver needs to find their stride. This team has the talent to compete with the best of the best every single night. Based on their schedule, they’re going to have to do exactly that.