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In 2018, Nuggets Looking to Build on Early-Season Success
If it seems like this basketball season is flying by, it’s only because it is. In 10 days, the Nuggets will have played half of their games this season. As they start the new year, they’ve already played 36 games, own a 19-17 record, and are generally pleased with how things have gone.
“I’d say overall (2017) was more positive than negative,” Nuggets Malone said. “By no means are we satisfied with being 19-17, but when you take everything into account – the injury to Paul Millsap, the six or seven games that Nikola Jokic missed, the fact that we’ve had the schedule that we’ve had…I think overall we’re heading in the right direction.”
The Nuggets begin 2018 in sixth place in the Western Conference, looking to advance to the playoffs for the first time in five years. And they’ve risen to sixth in the West despite having a road-heavy schedule. The Nuggets are one of only five teams in the NBA to have played 20 road games. But now that they’ve basically played half of their road schedule, things are about to change in a big way.
January and February are stuffed full of home games. In those two months, the Nuggets will play 17 of 25 games at the Pepsi Center, where they’ve already put together a solid 12-4 record -- a .750 win percentage. Do that again over the course of the next two months and that will add roughly 13 more wins to the home tally.
“Hopefully we can use January, which is a lot of home games to kind of build and get ahead and not be two games over .500,” Malone said. “I’m pretty satisfied with where we are, but we have a lot of work to do.”
The home-heavy schedule is the good news. An influx of back-to-back games is the bad news, and the Nuggets will play a ton of them in January. There are four sets of back-to-back games in the month, all of them starting at home and ending on the road – and two of those are at the San Antonio Spurs. One of the games at San Antonio is preceded by a game against the Boston Celtics the night before.
So, while January does return the Nuggets home, it also presents unique challenges. They have one winning month under their belts – 9-5 in November – and just missed another in December after losing to Philadelphia last Saturday, which closed out the 2017 portion of their schedule. The Nuggets were 7-8 in December.
They are hoping to keep Jamal Murray rolling into the new year. He had the best month of his young career in December, with averages of 19.1 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.2 steals. Murray shot 46.7 percent from the field overall, 46.4 from the 3-point line, and continued to be one of the NBA’s best free throw shooters, hitting 92.5 percent in the month.
Including Murray, the Nuggets had five players average at least 14 points per game in December – Nikola Jokic (18.4), Gary Harris (17.9), Trey Lyles (14.7) and Will Barton (14.1).
Murray liked what he saw out of the team through 36 games.
“We had a great start to the year – our best since 2011 or 2010, whatever it is,” Murray said. “So, we’re proud of that. It was a great December, and a great three months.”
Christopher Dempsey: firstname.lastname@example.org and @chrisadempsey on Twitter