Dissecting the Denver Nuggets 2012-13 schedule

If you’re a Nuggets fan who’s been online in the last 24 hours or so, then you’re probably already aware that there are two aspects of their 2012-13 schedule which have been getting the most attention. The first is that Carmelo Anthony will make his first return to the Pepsi Center on March 13, 2013, just over two years after his trade to the Knicks, providing the fans in Denver with their first opportunity for some cathartic booing. The other, much more ominous, is the extent to which the schedule is frontloaded with a surprisingly disproportionate amount of road games in November and December.

As Aaron J. Lopez put it in his schedule breakdown at Nuggets.com, “nine of Denver’s first 12 games and 17 of its first 23 will be away from home”. That’s a pretty rough way to start the season, but the tables will turn fairly abruptly as the Nuggets then will play 15 of 18 games at home from January 1st through February 7th. The remainder of the season finishes out in a more balanced manner, and further schedule details are somewhat of a mixed bag.

According to this chart created by Houston Rockets analyst Ed Kupfer (do yourself a favor and follow him on twitter @EdKupfer), Denver has the second worst schedule in terms of the averages of own team rest days versus opposing team rest days. This sounds bad, but I won’t claim to know the precise significance of a -0.12 deviation from the mean, or how this might translate to a real impact on wins and losses. I do however find it somewhat gratifying that the team that comes out the worst in this metric is the Spurs, with the Lakers trailing closely behind Denver in third.

The Nuggets have seventeen back-to-backs, eight 3-in-4s, and three 4-in-5s. In fifteen of the B2Bs (a hefty 88%), the second game is played on the road. Six of the eight 3-in-4s are at home in the Pepsi Center, but all three 4-in-5s are away games. By the end of 2012, they will have completed seven B2Bs, three 3-in-4s, and two 4-in-5s, finishing nearly half the season’s difficult runs in just two months.

Overall, it is not a very streaky season for Denver. They have three 3-game road trips, one 4-game, and one 5-game. The 4-gamer is in February, while all the others are part of the opening barrage of road games in November and December.

Their longest home stretch is six games, bridging the end of January and beginning of February. Beyond that they’ll have a 4-game stretch in January, and two 3-gamers, both in 2013.

At a glance, some aspects of this schedule might seem to be very unfavorable to the Nuggets. But if they can successfully weather the road through the first two months of the season, it could really end up working out in their favor. At that point, it would all be about taking advantage of what should be some fairly smooth sailing from New Year’s Day onward. And at any rate, if last season was any indication of things to come, the big hurdle this Nuggets team needs to overcome is not winning on the road, but beating their easier opponents.

While I’m certainly not above the occasional knee-jerk reaction in feeling some kind of scheduling injustice has been done, it may be important to keep in mind that, at the end of the day, all of this schedule parsing may not be as important as we tend to think it is. As Zach Lowe tweeted earlier today: “Have polled lots of smart team people this morning, and consensus is: Whatever schedule imbalances exist make virtually no difference.”

Right now, the Miami Heat are not fretting over how many B2Bs they have, or the length of their longest road trip. If the Denver Nuggets are a team that’s striving to push through the bubble into legitimate contender status, perhaps none of this should worry them, either.

Additional Thoughts From Jeremy:

  • For the first time as an NBA franchise the Nuggets open up against a team from the Eastern Conference, the Philadelphia 76ers.  That is right; Denver has always started off their schedule against a Western Conference opponent.  In fact, there is usually not an opponent from the east until at least two or three games have been played.  The last time the Nuggets franchise started a season playing against an Eastern Conference foe was 1974 when they faced Dan Issel’s Kentucky Colonels, one of the five ABA teams from the east.  Good news for 76ers fans, the Colonels won the championship that season.
  • Looking at the home schedule, once again their first opponent is from the east, the Detroit Pistons.  Having the first home game against a team from the other conference is slightly less rare than the season opener being played against an eastern opponent.  Denver played the Milwaukee Bucks in their 2001 home opener.  Good news for the Pistons, the Bucks won that game.  Prior to that, you have to go back to the aforementioned 1974-75 ABA season to find a home opener against an Eastern Conference team.
  • The bulk of the back to back contests come early in the schedule with five of the 17 held in November.  After that there are only three in December and February and two in January, March and April.  Fifteen of the 17 back end games are on the road.  All four road games the Nuggets play against Oklahoma City and the Lakers are on the second night of a back to back.   Flipping that around both of the Lakers visits to Denver are on the second night of a back to back, but all four times the Thunder face the Nuggets the contest is preceded by an off day.
  • As in January the Nuggets get a bit of a break after the All-Star break.  Denver has zero sets of four games in five nights and only five back to back games.  Sixteen of their final 28 games are at home and there are no road trips longer than two games.  In April after a road game in Utah, Denver has five of their last seven games at home and the Spurs are the only high quality team they will face.
  • There are four Western Conference teams the Nuggets only play three times.  Those teams are Phoenix and Dallas, who the Nuggets play twice on the road and once at home, and New Orleans and the Clippers, who the Nuggets will play twice at home and once on the road.  It would have been nice to have one less game against the Lakers, Spurs or Grizzlies, but m only playing one road game against the Clippers will do.

An important correction and additional thoughts from denbutsu:

  • When this was originally posted, I mistakenly attributed the the rest days chart above to the wrong source. I have edited that paragraph and it now correctly credits Ed Kupfer (and again I encourage you to follow him on twitter @EdKupfer). My sincere apologies for dropping the ball on that. I have contacted the source where I first saw the chart to let them know who it really came from.
  •  The reason I stumbled upon my mistake was that Ed recently made some excellent new charts which graphically illustrate two more important components of the 2012-13 NBA schedule, both regarding travel. The first is this chart showing the total cumulative travel distances of every NBA team over the course of the entire season. Denver travels the third most miles, trailing only Portland and the Lakers. The second, divided into Western Conference and Eastern Conference charts, is perhaps more illuminating. It graphs both the home/away patterns and travel distances of every team over the course of the entire season. The big total travel mileage for the Nuggets appears much less ominous when seen in this fuller context. Sure, Denver travels a a lot of miles, but it does so at a fairly even keel with few inordinately long trips. Compare the Nuggets’ relatively flat lines across each month with the big peaks seen, for example, in the Jazz, Spurs and Lakers schedules, and the big picture seems much more reasonable.
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Joel is a long time Denver Nuggets (and Broncos) fan from Colorado who's been living in Japan since the mid-90s, and blogging about the Nuggets since 2008. You can contact and follow him on Twitter: @denbutsu.
  • DH

    Agreed. The schedule will balance out in the end, to a certain degree. And I would rather have it start hard and finish easier than the other way around. Also, the Nugs should be able to weather back-to-backs better than most teams, due to their depth. I don’t think the schedule will make or break the Nuggets’ season.

    • Landry

      I’m glad we have such a ridiculously hard beginning of the schedule. Masai is always thinking during the trade deadline so I’m glad that we have the most difficult test at the beginning and so his decisions can be established during the beginning stretch. Our weaknesses of our team will be exposed to how the Nuggets play basketball exposing our needs like he did with Nene last year. (man is injury-prone, overpaid, and is too nice for his own good)

      So clearly the keys to not needing any personal changes are, 1)Win at home 2)continue to win on the road 3) and most importantly play DEFENSE!!!

  • http://www.roundballminingcompany.com Jeremy

    I agree with denbutsu and DH, the schedule will not make or break a season. Remember all the consternation about plying three nights in a row last season? In an informal unscientific look at everyone team’s results from last season, teams were 22-20 on the third night of a back to back to back set. The worst team in NBA history that only won seven games last year was even 1-0 in that situation.

  • GK4Prez

    I actually like the schedule, it will give a young team like the Nuggets a chance to bond early in the season while on the road. Theoretically, it should also be the time of the year when the team will be its healthiest.

  • Woobly o Balls

    The only 2 things that interest me about the schedule
    1. We have a Christmas day game
    2. The date of Carmelo’s return

    Otherwise the schedule will have near zero impact on the season

  • josh

    The suspense is killing me. I cannot wait to see this team run up and down and all over the opposition. Ty Lawson is ready to take this team over and if his speed in any indication, we could move up the leader board quickly.

  • Ban

    Lawson/Afflalo/Gallinari/Faried/McGee
    Miller/Brewer/Chandler/Harrington/Mozgov
    Fournier/Hamilton/QMiller?/Randolph/Koufos

    Wow, that’s a young (with 2 obvious exceptions), deep, and fun team.

    Moving one of the bigs (Koufos and/or Harrington) and one of the wings (Brewer?) wouldn’t be a bad idea….otherwise, either some good players aren’t going to get enough playing time or some decent ones aren’t going to get any. Also, a tighter rotation would be better for the most promising players’ development: thinking of Gallo, McGee, and Faried especially.

    re: schedule. Better hard early than late. Maybe the Nuggets will get a second wind for the playoffs. No matter what, it will be a tough opponent in the first round. Likely one of Thunder/Spurs/Lakers/Grizzlies/Clippers. (It would be great to sneak into 4th or 5th seed and avoid Thunder/Spurs/Lakers trifecta of doom.)

    • sam

      4th seed is important for denver not because who the opposition is but because no telling what could be made of home court advantage in the playoffs, especially with a young squad built to run at altitude.

  • GK4Prez

    I can see Mozgov getting one of the poison pill contract offers from another team next summer, and Brewer might be worth more as an expiring contract to the Nuggets than as trade bait.

  • http://www.anglofareast.com/research/gold-price/ gold price

    Final 10 – 3 home, 7 road: It’s not the most pleasant of schedules given all the road dates, but there are a pair of games with Charlotte to offset a grueling stretch that includes visits to Atlanta, Miami and Brooklyn, followed by another meeting with the Hawks. Philadelphia needs to have its work done by this point or risk flirting with disaster. The season finale is at Indiana.