The 12 Game Road to Recovery

The new year started out kind to the Nuggets, especially after beginning January with a franchise best 12-3 record. Although they went on to lose their final two games in January, coach George Karl still called it “maybe the best month I’ve ever had” as the Nuggets were talked about as legitimate contenders for a top four seed in the Western Conference.

That was three weeks ago. Even the worst case scenarios back then might not have predicted the precipitous slide the Nuggets would go on after losing those final two games in the month of January. Unfortunately the nightmares have come true as the Denver Nuggets limp into the All-Star break reeling and out of the playoff picture altogether. To say they have fallen on hard times would be a massive understatement.

The injuries have gotten so bad moral victories have the Nuggets feeling pretty good about themselves despite going 1-5 in their last six games. It seems ridiculous, but the optimism is not misguided. To say the Nuggets have a favorable schedule coming up would be putting it lightly. 10 of the next 12 are at home and the Nuggets will be playing on at least one day of rest for ALL of them. Let’s take a look.

The post-All-Star break schedule (12 games)

Outside of a road date with San Antonio and the home game against a rested OKC, there are no scheduled losses in this stretch of 12 games occupying the next month. There are only three games against teams clearly superior to the Nuggets and two of them are at home while all of them will be played on one days’ rest.

This is clearly the softest portion of the schedule all season. More importantly, it provides a golden opportunity for the Nuggets to correct two of the biggest problems that have thrown Denver’s once-promising season off the rails:

  • Winning at home – 5 of the 10 home games are against sub .500 teams, whom the Nuggets have feasted on all year. On top of that, Sacramento and Boston have to play against a rested Nuggets squad in Denver on the second night of a back to back. The Nuggets have been poor at home, getting blown out by the Jazz, Hornets and Warriors before they suffered their recent rash on injuries. Now they figure to be healthier than ever with ample rest between games and a soft slate of sub-par opponents to get their confidence up before Dallas and OKC come to town.
  • Improving the defense — Outside of OKC and San Antonio, the Nuggets are collectively facing some pretty poor offensive teams. Houston and Portland are barely inside the top ten, but the remaining eight games are against teams ranked in the bottom ten in terms of offensive efficiency. There are plenty of games here the Nuggets should be able to win with their (admittedly poor) defense. In the last few games against the Thunder, Clippers, and Spurs, the Nuggets managed some decent defense but fell victim to overwhelmingly good offense they could not answer without their best players available.

The biggest danger in this stretch is falling into familiar excuses and losing the first three games. Gallo might not be available until the nine game homestand begins and it’s rumored that Nene won’t be fully healthy for the rest of the year. Even then, the worst case scenario I can come up with is the Nuggets lose to every good team they play and win two out of three at home against Portland, Memphis and Atlanta. That still leaves them at 7-5.

12-0 is probably out of the question, but assuming the Nuggets can manage a very realistic 9 wins in the next 12, they could very easily set themselves up to be safely in playoff contention for the rest of the year and perhaps even regain their early-season form as one of the better teams in the West.

Knowing George Karl, he’s aiming for 7 or 8 wins out of this crucial stretch. Even that would represent a massive improvement for a team that has lost 13 of its last 17 games. In my opinion, it is imperative to look beyond those low expectations and recognize this as an opportunity to set the tone for the remainder of the season. Anything less than 8 wins and I will be seriously worried about the Nuggets maintaining a good enough pace to realistically make the playoffs.

There’s lots of excuses and hardship surrounding the Denver Nuggets right now. Every game is plagued by a hopelessness and a belief that circumstances are so bad losses can’t be avoided. With the tide finally tuning in Denver’s favor, it’s time for the culture of excuses to come to an end. It’s moments like these the Nuggets need to come together and find themselves while opportunities for redemption still exist.

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Charlie Yao

Contributor at Roundball Mining Company since 2010. Unhealthily obsessed with Nuggets basketball since 2002. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram at the links on the left.
  • NuggFan forLife

    Man, I agree with you! This Nuggets team better not blow this stretch or else; they’ll be guided under a different coach. My challenge for them is to be like the 1999 Knicks, the team that became the 8th seeded team to advance to the Finals. Of course it is difficult to be done, but it doesn’t mean it can’t be achieved, even for a coach like Karl.

  • LEEDS

    I think they need to get to at least 29 wins by the end of March. Anything less and it will be a dog fight to make the playoffs. The problem all along is that even with the injuries, the Nuggets have dropped games they should have and could have won. Karl’s teams always does this at the beginning of the season. Think about, we should be much better than 18-17.
    12/31 at LAL, up 2 to start the 4th, we played tough. If Gallo makes the layup at the end of the game, we’re tied. Maybe win in OT, who knows.
    1/9 vs NOH – to lose against the Hornets at home is unforgivable. Got to beat the teams we are supposed to beat, especially at home.
    1/15 vs Utah – after spanking them in our 2nd game of the season, we drop a very winnable home game. Again have to win at home to be a championship level team
    1/29 vs LAC – up 6 to start the 4th, we gave this one away. Nene’s dunk with 56 secs left gave us a 105-104 lead. Big Al misses a layup with 35 secs and Clips hold on to steal it.
    1/31 at Memphis – up 10 in fourth with 5 minutes to go, Karl goes small ball, we cannot rebound, and lose in OT.
    2/3 vs LAL – lose at home to the Lakers when we could have one if Karl goes big, but he has Big Al guard Gasol most of the 4th. Ty is hesitant to take old man Fisher to rim. We played behind most of the game.
    2/6 vs Hou and 2/9 vs GC – my comments earlier. No way these teams should come into Pepsi and beat us easily. Two games we should have won, injuries or no injuries.
    2/17 at Memphis – again got down big early to come back and be up 1 with Brewer’s dunk. Then Faired makes a rookie mistake and not box out allowing a tip in for the loss.
    2/19 at OKC, up 5 with 50 secs, most teams win in that instance. Again we go small and old ball and have Big Al and Miller in the game on key defensive possessions only to see OKC grab an Offensive rebound and kick out to KD for a 3. We watch Ty chuck a long jumper when perhaps a good coach would call timeout so that we can run a play and get a decent shot.
    So from the 10 games listed above, we should have probably won 7 more games and could have won 8 if we beat the Lakers in December.
    7 more wins right now was achievable if we had better coaching or rotations in those games. 25-10 sure sure sounds better than 18-17, but we’ll keep make excuses for the coach and say its injuries etc… Well in my opinion, a coach should what he is worth when the team is not at full strength. That’s when we see how a good coach would “coach” the team to wins and not look bored or play old tired guys and go with small ball and then complain we can’t grab a rebound.

  • MTnugfan

    Thanks for working this blog guys, I can’t watch many of the games and the recaps are great. With the trade deadline approaching, is there any news regarding a possible Andre Miller trade? He made it very clear he is not interested in the nuggets long term and night to night doesn’t seem very interested right now. Doesn’t make any sense to keep him. Wondering if I’m waiting anxiously for a trade that’s not going to happen?

  • Guy

    The way things are going for the Nuggets right now I don’t think any game is a guaranteed win. I know nobody wants to hear this but it might be best if they end up in the lottery and continue rebuilding. OKC will be good for a few years, Dallas is rumored to be the front runner in the Dwight Howard – D. Williams sweepstakes, the Clippers will be good and the Lakers well are the Lakers. San Antonio might be the best run organization in the NBA and considering all these factors I don’t see how the Nuggets compete in their current form. This team isn’t going to beat any of these teams in a 7 game series, especialy when they’ll be on the road, let alone win 3 series to get to the finals. The Nuggets FO needs to look at the reality that if Nene is your highest paid player your team isn’t going anywhere. The Nuggets got off to a hot start by beating bad teams on the road (Bucks, Kings, Knicks, NO..) and beating good teams like Dallas while they were out of shape. This team is better than their current swoon but they are not one of the elite teams in the West, with or without George Karl.

    • Ricardo

      I agree, this team is good, but I think they still have to rebuild it through the draft for a couple years to be a contender. They could start this offseason by letting go of Miller and Fernandez in free agency and drafting a point guard with their first-round pick in the draft to replace Miller’s spot and putting Hamilton to be the back-up shooting guard.

      • Markus

        I agree with letting go of Miller and Rudy, but I think we really need to consider turning Stone into our number two point guard. His size and defensive abilities make him a great fit for GK’s tow-point guard lineups, and he doesn’t need to become an offensive powerhouse to be a backup. With point of Ty/Stone, shooting guard of AAA, and SF of Gallo/(hopefully chandler)/J-Ham, we have a good 1-3 if we can rotate a good backup for AAA. After that, Nene seems to prefer PF over center, and I think it is a better option for him considering his affinity for shooting jupers, rebounding poorly, and finishing soft around the rim. Hopefully we can develop Manimal into a legitimate backup/swingman for SF if we need to go big. So i think if the nuggets find themselves with a good draft pick, we need to seriously consider a center who can eventually slow down bynum, and possibly howard. I am more than convinced that the mozzy experiment was a failure, Kosta would make a great backup/part time starter, and Big Al can take up remaining minutes for PF and Center, or when we need an offensive pick-me-up. We get killed on the boards too often, and we have a solid 1-4 starting lineup with Nene at PF.

      • Peter

        Which point guard to you want us to draft? Kendall Marshall is projected as the #11 pick according to nbadraft.net Idk if his game translates well to the NBA. His big guys on his college team are arguably better than half the front line of teams in the nba, no wonder he gets so many assists. They have us taking John Henson at #14. Please, we don’t need another Birdman type player who will come off the bench, block shots and ooh and ahh the crowd, but just get pushed around by good teams like LA and SA. They have Tony Wroten going #14 who is super talented and could be an all-star some day. The only thing that worries me is his nba comparison is Tyreke Evans. I think he’s a little better passer than Evans, but other than that I understand the comparison. I think the Nuggets should instead go big. I’m sorry but we are justn not winning a championship with Nene as our best front line player. Idk which player the nuggets should pick, but a trade of Wilson Chandler for Toronto’s #1 pick would be awesome.

        • LEEDS

          does it really matter who we take? Karl probably won’t play the rookie