Sizing up – and breaking down – the journey ahead
The last time the Nuggets saw the Utah Jazz, their vision was blurred by a steady stream of confetti raining down from the EnergySolutions Center in Salt Lake City.
The opportunity for a small measure of payback will come immediately in 2010-11.
Six months after falling to their Northwest Division rivals in the Western Conference playoffs, the Nuggets will face the Jazz in the season-opener for both teams Oct. 27 at the Pepsi Center. Denver opened 2009-10 with a win against Utah.
The NBA released the entire schedule on Tuesday, allowing players, coaches, fans and the media to start circling dates and projecting win totals for the Nuggets and the other 29 teams around the league.
Here is a breakdown of Denver's marquee games, pertinent notes and a final prediction for the Nuggets as they begin their quest for a fourth consecutive 50-win season and a third straight division title.
Oct. 27 vs. Utah
Recent History: The Nuggets won three of four games against the Jazz during the regular season but lost to Utah 4-2 in the first round of the playoffs. The Nuggets were hindered by the absence of coach George Karl, while the Jazz played without starters Andrei Kirilenko and Mehmet Okur.
Quick Facts: While the Nuggets kept their nucleus in tact, the Jazz made significant changes, losing forward Carlos Boozer, sharpshooter Kyle Korver and key contributor Wesley Matthews to free agency. Utah added big man Al Jefferson (trade with Minnesota), guard Raja Bell (free agency) and forward Gordon Hayward (draft).
Analysis: Denver began last season with a home win against the Jazz. With Karl set to return to the bench following his recovery from throat cancer, there’s reason for optimism when the Nuggets take the court in front of another sold-out crowd at the Pepsi Center.
Nov. 11 vs. L.A. Lakers
Recent History: By going 3-1 against the Lakers, the Nuggets won the season series for just the third time in 22 years. J.R. Smith averaged 20 points off the bench and Denver shot 44.3 percent (39 of 88) from three-point range to counter the Lakers’ size advantage.
Analysis: Ever since being swept by Los Angeles in the first round of the 2008 playoffs, the Nuggets have gone toe-to-toe with the Lakers. Denver tries to neutralize L.A.’s size by pushing the pace and attacking on the perimeter. If history is any indication, a national-TV audience should see a game with playoff intensity.
Nov. 15 at Phoenix
Recent History: When teams come to Denver, they tend to get altitude sickness. When the Nuggets travel to Phoenix, they get burned. The Nuggets have lost 11 straight road games to the Suns, including a 22-point loss to end the 2009-10 season.
Quick Facts: Although the Suns lost leading scorer Amar’e Stoudemire to free agency, they still have two-time MVP Steve Nash orchestrating an offense that led the NBA in scoring (110.2 ppg), field-goal percentage (.492) and three-point shooting (.412).
Analysis: The Nuggets had ambitions of a return to the Western Conference finals, but it was the Suns who made the improbable run through the 2010 playoffs, falling to the Lakers in six games. This amounts to another early statement game for Denver.
Nov. 26 vs. Chicago
Recent History: The Nuggets swept the Bulls last season, but it wasn’t easy. They needed a video review to overturn Brad Miller’s jumper at the buzzer in Chicago and fell behind by 14 points before rallying for a victory in Denver 11 days later.
Quick Facts: With the additions of Boozer, Korver and Ronnie Brewer, the Bulls have three players who were with Utah last season. Chicago point guard Derrick Rose averaged 25 points in two games against Denver in 2009-10.
Analysis: Considering the Bulls are capable of contending for a top-four spot in the Eastern Conference, a Nuggets victory would be a great way to begin of a five-game homestand. Denver went 34-7 at the Pepsi Center last season – tied for second in the NBA – and will play 19 of 29 games at home from Nov. 26-Jan. 23.
Dec. 25 at Oklahoma City
Recent History: The Nuggets are 13-3 against the Thunder over the past four seasons, but Oklahoma City is now one of the toughest stops on the schedule. NBA scoring champion Kevin Durant scored 30 points in a 17-point win over Denver on Jan. 29.
Quick Facts: The Nuggets have played on Christmas three times since joining the NBA in 1976, most recently last year in Portland (a 107-96 loss). They will also ring in the new year with a Jan. 1 home game against Sacramento.
Jan. 13 vs. Miami
Recent History: Throw recent history out the window. This game is all about living in the moment as LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh make their only appearance in Denver (barring a return for the NBA Finals).
Quick Facts: The Heat became instant title contenders when free agents James and Bosh opted to join forces with Wade in South Beach, but maybe they’re just trying to find a way to beat Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony. In seven NBA seasons, Anthony's Nuggets have gone 10-4 against James and 11-3 against both Bosh and Wade.
Analysis: It’s easy to predict big things from the Heat, but Miami has some defensive deficiencies that need to be solved. This game could develop into a shootout that is sandwiched between home dates with high-scoring Phoenix and James-less Cleveland.
Jan. 25-31 at WSH, at DET, at CLE, at PHI, at NJ
Recent History: Since Karl’s arrival in 2005, the Nuggets have improved significantly away from home, but the road is still a treacherous place. Denver was 17-16 on the road last season before dropping six of its final eight away from the Pepsi Center.
Quick Facts: The Nuggets open a stretch of 18 of 27 games on the road with their longest trip of the season. Of the five opponents, only Cleveland had a winning record in 2009-10. Denver will try to break a 14-game losing streak in Detroit.
Analysis: On paper, each game on this trip is winnable, but that doesn’t mean much when playing five times in seven days. A minimum of three wins should be the goal for a team with title aspirations.
Feb. 16 at Milwaukee
Recent History: Led by rookie point guard Brandon Jennings and swingman John Salmons, the Bucks swept the season series against Denver for just the second time in the past 15 years. As matter of fact, Milwaukee was the only team in the NBA to sweep the Nuggets during the 2009-10 regular season.
Quick Facts: This is Denver’s final stop on a three-game road trip leading into the All-Star break. The Nuggets are 1-4 in such games since 2005.
Analysis: This is the classic “trap” game, coming at a time when some players are already making plans for All-Star weekend. The Nuggets kicked away games such as these last season, and it could have been the difference between a No. 2 seed a No. 4 seed.
Mar. 3-19, at UTA, at LAC, at PHX, vs. DET, at NO, at ATL, at ORL, at MIA
Quick Facts: This is easily the most daunting stretch of games the Nuggets will face all season; five of the eight teams made the playoffs in 2009-10, while the other three each beat Denver once last season.
Analysis: Denver absolutely must win the lone home game March 12 against Detroit and then try to pick up three wins somewhere in the seven road games. The Clippers and Hornets would appear to be the best opportunities, but the NBA didn’t do the Nuggets any favors by sending them to Atlanta, Orlando and Miami in a four-day span.
Mar. 30-Apr. 3 vs SAC, at SAC, at LAL
Recent history: Since snapping a 20-game losing streak at Arco Arena in 2007, the Nuggets have actually fared okay in Sacramento, going 3-4. Wins against the Lakers in Los Angeles have been harder to come by; Denver is 2-13 against them at the Staples Center since 2002.
Quick facts: Despite having the NBA’s third-worst record, the Kings gave the Nuggets fits last season, winning twice in Sacramento and falling in overtime at the Pepsi Center.
Analysis: The home-and-home dates with the Kings take on added significance for the Nuggets, considering five of their final seven games are against projected Western Conference playoff contenders. Overall, 21 of Denver’s final 34 games will be against teams that had a winning record in 2009-10.
Final prediction ...
If Karl’s ever-improving health allows him to stay on the bench for the entire season, and the Nuggets can avoid injuries to All-Stars Anthony and Chauncey Billups, they should be in line for a 50-32 record. Fifty wins likely will be essential in the NBA's toughest division, and don't be surprised if the battle between the Nuggets, Jazz, Thunder and Portland Trail Blazers goes right down to the final day of the season.
Contact Aaron J. Lopez at firstname.lastname@example.org