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Nuggets’ next dozen games could shape their season’s fate

Joel Rush Avatar
November 22, 2016


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The Denver Nuggets are mainly focused on the team’s current four-game homestand, which wraps up against the Chicago Bulls Tuesday, but looming larger in the big picture is the road-heavy schedule on the horizon.

Denver started their 2016-17 season by playing six of their first seven games on the road, and according to an analysis conducted by Bo Schwartz Madsen of Nylon Calculus, had the most difficult 10-game start of all teams in the NBA. Although at present, they have a brief respite of home games, there is little rest for the weary as they play eight of their next 12 games on the road culminating in a six-game road trip.

In fact, by the time the Nuggets conclude that trip in Dallas on December 12, Denver will have played about 40 percent of their total season road games (15 of 41) in approximately the first thirty percent of the season (25 of 82 games). This means that once the Nuggets gets over the initial hump of this brutal start to the season, the path ahead gets considerably easier.

The implication there is that if they can just weather this storm without falling too far behind in the standings, the Nuggets, who currently sit at 5-8 could be well positioned for a season that is relatively successful despite their early struggles. This, of course, depends on the definition of “success,” but for a team who most projected to have a losing season, it is fair to say that breaking even or better would at least be exceeding the expectations of league-wide conventional wisdom.

And there is some good news regarding Denver’s upcoming road games.

Despite the heavy mileage, the Nuggets’ prospects of entering mid-December at or near .500 may be better than they appear at first glance. The following table shows Denver’s next twelve opponents with their current SRS (simple rating system) and the differential between their SRS and that of the Nuggets, per Basketball-Reference.com.

If we use SRS as an approximate placeholder for the current comparative strength of these teams, then we can see that in the Nuggets’ next dozen games, they will face their most difficult opponents at home, at Pepsi Center, while they playing their weakest opponents on the road.

In other words, this represents a great opportunity for the Nuggets to grab some road victories that would prevent them from falling in the standings below a point of plausible return to contention for a playoff spot, or at a minimum, a winning record. Phoenix, Philadelphia, Brooklyn, and Orlando are all definitively should-win road games, while Washington and Dallas – both injury-hobbled and underperforming – are at the very least, winnable.

Given Denver’s current inconsistencies, and as Michael Malone pointed out, problems playing in a disciplined manner, it seems improbable that they would run the table from Philadelphia through Dallas. But if Denver can manage to win five of their eight road games over this stretch – a very realistic target – and find a way to win one or two of their home games against superior opponents, they could go 6-6 or 7-5 over this 12-game span.

If the Nuggets pulled that off, they would enter the latter part of December, when six of the month’s remaining eight games will be played at home, with a record of 11-14 (.440) or 12-13 (.480), That positions Denver well to claw their way to a winning record, if not by the end of the year, then perhaps by the end of January.

Given all the trials and tribulations of this season, with its many injuries, player struggles, and rotational discombobulation, the fact that this outcome appears to be a fairly realistic possibility is somewhat remarkable.

Since Denver’s record as they approach the February trade deadline is likely to be determined in large part by this next run of mostly road games, how well the Nuggets come out on the other side could have a big impact not only on their record this season, but their roster going forward. Ultimately, that success – or lack thereof – will certainly influence the front office’s decision-making come February’s trade deadline.

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