Heading into the new year, the Nuggets will have played 22 of a possible 32 games on the road. According to Sandy Clough on 104.3 The Fan this morning, that is the toughest opening schedule based on home-road split since a 1980s-era Chicago Bulls team (admittedly, I haven’t been able to confirm this yet).

Yet despite all the teeth gnashing and garment-rending that this extremely difficult schedule has produced, the Nuggets have (so far) remained at or around .500 record wise. Although I’d love for the Nuggets to have gone 11-2 on the road like the San Antonio Spurs have to this point, this is a young team still without a superstar, building chemistry and adjusting to the challenges of the toughest start for a team in almost 35 years.

I acknowledge that I – like many others – expected more from this team, but I can't say that I'm truly surprised at the degree to which they've struggled. Sure, I'm disappointed that the Nuggets have let winnable games like their last tilts at Golden State and Utah slip away, but the adversity that this team's experienced go part and parcel with being young and on the road so much.

Going back to the 2007-08 season, the Nuggets have gone 20-13, 33-8, 34-7, 33-8, and 33-8 at home. That is a consistently stellar home record – the Nuggets win an average 78% of the time in the friendly confines of the Pepsi Center. Had the lockout year gone differently and the Nuggets averaged their standard 33-8 at home, that home win percentage would have been an even more absurdly good 80-percent. Even still, winning more than three out of four home games on average is nothing to sneeze at.

In January, the Nuggets play 12 of 15 at home, with just three road games at the Los Angeles Lakers, the Oklahoma City Thunder, and the Houston Rockets. It is unfortunate that the games at the Lakers and Thunder are both the second of back-to-back sets, though I’d love to see Karl stick it to the league a la Gregg Popovich and rest some of the starters at that point.

With such a friendly home schedule, I would not be surprised for the Nuggets to win 12 or 13 of those 15 games. Assuming the Nuggets hover around .500 and end up with a 16-16 split by 2013, that means they could possibly be 28-19 or 29-18 by the beginning of February. February gets a bit tougher, but if the Nuggets can continue their traditional home dominance, they'll be in exactly the right spot to make a strong push for home playoff seeding in March and April.

On to the links!

Nuggets looking for identity in wake of loss to Knicks – Although we’re all by now familiar with the difficult loss the Nuggets suffered to the Knicks, blowing an 8 point lead late, I thought this article was very interesting for its quote from George Karl:

“The whole game plan was read your help and if you make a mistake, make a mistake to the 3-ball. I told the team, ‘I don’t mind losing to a good team, but we lose because we give them things, we give them gifts.’ “

Assuming I’m interpreting this comment correctly, Karl’s direction that the game plan was to “make a mistake to the 3-ball” is very telling for a team that’s third worst in the NBA at defending the deep shot, giving up an average of 39% to their opponents. While I understand that Karl was understandably worried about the dribble drive of Carmelo Anthony and pick and rolls from Tyson Chandler, to me, this is the first true evidence that our struggles on the perimeter are the intentional result of the defensive scheme. Although this may be isolated to this Knicks game, I doubt it.
At some point, Karl may need to acknowledge that whatever defensive efficiency he thinks we gain from “making mistakes to the three-ball”, we’re not getting anywhere when we give up nearly 40% from deep to every opponent.
Toronto Raptors Amir Johnson banned 1 game for run-in with ref – In perhaps one of the most ridiculous displays of immaturity I’ve seen in professional sports – and I’ve watched my fair share of Dwight Howard games, hiyo! The 25 year old Amir Johnson was ejected by ref David Jones after playing tug of war with the ball following a Portland free throw. Johnson then tossed his mouthpiece at Jones as he walked off the court and drew a suspension from the league for his trouble. Truly bizarre.
Lakers’ struggles continue – Ahh, schadenfreude. Despite a salary bloated to Yankees-like proportions at more than $100 million for the 2012-13 season, the Lakers continue to struggle incorporating the petulant Dwight Howard and a clearly broken Steve Nash into the squad. They’re now four games under .500, despite having played more than twice as many games at home as the Nuggets, and it doesn’t look to get better anytime soon.
The Lakers play 5 out of their next 7 games are on the road (where they are just 2-7), including a game at Denver where the Nuggets can exact revenge for the beat-down they suffered at the hands of the Lakers earlier this season. No matter what the Nuggets are doing, it’s hard not to enjoy watching the Lakers fail.