(Boulder-CO) The Denver Nuggets have played some fantastic basketball so far this season and have endured some unfortunate injuries on their way to a 32-20 overall record at the All-Star break. But, the crowded and continually improving Western Conference is amidst an arms race of epic proportions. If the playoffs were to start today, the Nuggets would be the eighth seed in the Western Conference and would face the number one seed Phoenix Suns. Which, would not be a good scenario for Denver seeing as Phoenix may have already yelled “Eureka” in the NBA’s version of All-Star swap-meet by landing Shaq from the Heat in exchange for Shawn Marion.
Not to mention the fact that if Denver fails to win it’s division (which they are currently trailing the Utah Jazz by 1 ½ games in) they could very well be on the outside of the playoff picture looking in.
So, with the stage set, allow me to give you the forecast for what the last 30 games of the season have in store for the Nuggets and how difficult the task is of not only winning the division, but even just making the playoffs at all.
For starters, let me illustrate who is left on the schedule and how many times each the Nuggets will have to face them. The records in parenthesis are how Denver has already fared against each opponent.
There is no easing into the short half of the season as the Nuggets get things started off by facing the 41-9 Boston Celtics (0-1) in their second and last (thank, God) meeting of the season. From this point, things start to get ugly. The Nuggets still have to face the Suns (0-1) three more times and the Rockets (1-1), Jazz (1-1), Warriors (1-1), Pistons (0-0), Spurs (1-1), and Raptors (0-0) each twice with all of the aforementioned teams currently sporting winning records. Then you sprinkle in Dallas (1-1) for another rendezvous and now you realize the Nuggets have 17 of their next 30 games against some very rigid competition.
The good news is that there is a few lambs still on the schedule. Denver has three games each against the struggling Seattle Supersonics (1-0) and miserable Memphis Grizzlies (1-0), but the rest of their games against sub .500 teams are by no means cake walks. The Nuggets have a pair of games against the Clippers (1-1) and one last meeting with the Sacramento Kings (1-0) to round out games against teams in the Western Conference. That just leaves the Nuggets teams in the Eastern Conference remaining to play and a few of these franchises may be fighting to make the playoffs in the vastly thinned out Eastern Conference. However, while Denver is undefeated against east coast foes remaining to be played (they have already beaten the Nets, Bulls, Bucks, and 76ers each once already this season). It should be no secret that with a potential playoff birth on the line the Nuggets should expect fierce competition out of the Bulls, 76ers, and Nets.
Now back to some cold hard facts about what it is going to take for the Nuggets to make the playoffs and, hopefully, win their conference. It is my contention that for the Nuggets, and the other five teams in the Western Conference playoff picture all jockeying for postseason births, to make the playoffs it will take winning 20 of their next 30 games. The Nuggets are a combined 14-8 overall against the remaining 16 teams who have an overall winning percentage of 54%. Overall, the 32-20 Nuggets have won 61% of their first 52 games and I believe they will need to win 52 games to make the postseason.
Whoa, did that all happen too fast?
Here’s a few other ways of looking at it!
The Nuggets’ next 30 games are against teams with a combined winning percentage of 54%.
17 of the Nuggets’ next 30 game are against teams with winning records.
Up to this point, the Nuggets have won 61% of their first 52 games. To get to 52 wins overall, they need to win 66% (or two out of every three) of their remaining 30 games.
The Nuggets are 14-8 so far against teams remaining to be played.
With all that being said, the road to this year’s postseason is going to be tough. This may be the most crowded and talented Western Conference playoff picture in the last ten years. And, as amazing as this may sound, 50 wins may not be enough for a team to make the playoffs this year! The Nuggets are one of many teams on the cusp of missing out and, barring any last minute trades that I’m sure are being concocted in the minds of many of you, there is nothing going to guarantee Denver a playoff series other than this roster of current Nuggets banding together and getting it done. Make no mistake, Nugget Nation: every single game from here on out IS a playoff game. Losses are going to sting and, in too frequent of occurrence, the season is very capable of being labeled an out-and-out failure.
Face it, it’s rally time, Denver.