There’s a strange air surrounding the Denver Nuggets as the 2015-16 season quickly approaches. Gone entirely is the naive optimism that predicated the beginning of the past two seasons, but gone also is the stench of frustration and disenchantment that soiled the fabric of the most recent one. There’s a renewed sense of optimism about a vision that’s finally beginning to materialize.
There are no delusions of grandeur and no false hopes. Hell, there are barely any expectations at all. But what does exist is a genuine and burgeoning sense of buy-in from a recently downtrodden fan base.
That newfound optimism was apparent as the NBA released the 2015-16 schedule, as Nuggets fans poured over each game, highlighting tough stretches, seeing where certain matchups fell on the calendar, and counting how many times there were four games in a five-day span. Yes, that became a real thing over the past few days.
I was no different. I went through each game with a finetooth comb, trying to account for various anomalies in the way each matchup was constructed. I did so an embarrassing number of times, but each time I noticed an obvious pattern emerging. No matter what scenario I envisioned playing out, the end result was a season that failed to see the Nuggets eclipse 30 wins.
The reality that this Nuggets team just won’t be very good suddenly took hold, and even more securely than it had previously — which is saying something.
Nationally Televised Games
The first thing that stands out is the fact that there will not be a single game televised on national TV (ESPN, ABC, TNT). There will actually be a good portion of the NBA audience that will not get a chance to seem Emmanuel Mudiay play, which is a crime. D’Angelo Russell on the other hand, will play in front of a global audience 19 times. That’s right, 19 times.
Only two other NBA teams will not play a single nationally televised game — the lab-experiment Philadelphia 76ers and the collectively yawned upon Detroit Pistons. By the way, this also means not everyone will get to witness two of the other top rookies as well in Jahlil Okafor and Stanley Johnson. Those are three players who happen to be in the thick of my favorites to win Rookie of the Year, so again, we all lose.
First Half vs. Second Half
I don’t consider the All-Star break to be the halfway point of the season because, well, it isn’t. The first 41 games however, officially halfway, are fairly brutal for the Nuggets. The second half eases up, to the extent an NBA schedule can actually do that.
There’s an even distribution in terms of home/road game split, with 21 of the first 41 games occurring on the road. However, of those first 41 games, 30 of them are against teams that finished with a .500 or better record last season. Of the final 41 games, only 23 of those are against teams that finished with a winning record. Granted, that’s subject to some scrutiny since teams such like the Portland Trail Blazers and Dallas Mavericks might not be the stout opponents they were a season ago.
The first half of the season also contains nine of the 14 total back-to-backs, with eight of those being of the home-road or road-road variety. Three extended road trips, consisting of three or more games in a row, occur in the first half. That same figure holds true for the second half.
There’s a stretch beginning on Jan. 27 extending through Feb. 19, during which eight out of 10 games will be played on the road, with six of those games being against Eastern Conference teams. That’s definitely one of the more difficult stretches. There’s also a five-game road trip in March that closely rivals it.
Dead-smack in the middle of the season (Jan. 10-25), there’s a nice eight-game home stretch that’ll be a welcome sight for a young team that’ll have likely received their share of bruises from a relatively daunting start. It’ll be a great opportunity for them to regroup, string together some wins and lay the groundwork for an improved finish to the season.
Games of Note
The first game of the season should be “must watch TV,” unless of course you don’t have League Pass, or if you’re not within range of regional coverage. Then, it becomes “not able to watch TV.”
The Nuggets will start their season on the road (Wednesday, Oct. 28 at 8:00 p.m. MST), taking on former face-of-the-franchise Ty Lawson and the Houston Rockets. The storylines for this game are obvious, and should be one that Nuggets fans set their calendars for.
The Russell/Mudiay rivalry officially kicks off at 10:30 p.m. on Nov. 3, when the Nuggets will travel to Staples Center to take on the Los Angeles Lakers.
The revamped San Antonio Spurs come to Denver on Nov. 27 for a post-Thanksgiving showdown at 9 p.m.
Two teams that’ll already be out of contention will meet up on NBA TV on Dec. 15 at 9:00 p.m. in the Nuggets and the Minnesota Timberwolves. This game will take place in Minneapolis and will showcase two young, rebuilding teams with recently drafted stars — Mudiay and Karl-Anthony Towns.
The defending champion Golden State Warriors will make their first appearance in the Mile High City on Nov. 22 at 8:00 p.m., while the Cleveland Cavaliers will be coming to Denver in late December (Dec. 29 at 9:00 p.m.).
Oh, and the always fun return of Carmelo Anthony to the Pepsi Center will take place on March 8, 2016 at 9:00 p.m., when the New York Knicks come to town.
The final game of the season will be against the Blazers on April 13 at 10:30 p.m., and it could become a game that actually has a lot of meaning, at least as it relates to determining the number of ping pong balls each team gets for the Draft Lottery.
Yes friends, this is what this season has become, and I’m perfectly fine with that. Now, let’s get it started already.