The Denver Nuggets are now two games into their season-defining and season-long, seven-game road trip. Denver started the road trip on the back of a winning three of their last four games looking to prove that they were worthy of earning a playoff spot in the gauntlet that is the Western Conference.

Instead, the Nuggets fell to the lowly Memphis Grizzlies, who had lost 19-straight games before defeating Denver in Memphis, and the Miami Heat, who dealt Denver a brutal loss in double-overtime in Miami just two nights later. Now, Denver’s playoff hopes are nearing fanciful.

As of the morning of Tuesday, March 20th, the Nuggets are the 10th seed in the Western Conference. There are two full games separating them from the eighth and final playoff spot with 11 games remaining. So, what needs to happen for the Nuggets to make the playoffs?

Well, let’s start with a basic fact. The Nuggets are now a massive long shot to make the playoffs. According to FiveThirtyEight, Denver has just a 12-percent chance of making the playoffs and are projected to finish 43-39 — in the tenth seed. FiveThirtyEight also has the New Orleans Pelicans finishing the season as the eighth seed and final playoff team with a projected record of 46-36. So, if 46 wins are the minimum of games required for a playoff appearance, that means the Nuggets need to go 8-3 in their final 11 games.

While 8-3 makes it possible to make the playoffs, the Nuggets would also need help. If Denver ended in a tie with either the Los Angeles Clippers, who own the tiebreaker over the Nuggets, or the Minnesota Timberwolves, who are a near-lock to own the tiebreaker over Denver, Denver would then fall out of the playoffs despite winning eight games.

As of right now, the Nuggets’ current tiebreakers with teams that they are within striking distance of, shake out like this:

San Antonio Spurs

The Spurs refuse to die and, with 11 games remaining, San Antonio is slotted in as the fifth seed in the Western Conference even with Kawhi Leonard missing nearly the entire season. The Spurs are 41-30 and three games ahead of the Nuggets.

When it comes to tie-breakers, the Nuggets and Spurs are the most volatile situation. Denver and San Antonio have split their season-series 2-2, so the tiebreaker will fall back to each team’s conference record. Division record does not factor into tie-breaking scenarios unless both teams are in the same division. The Nuggets are 24-23 with five games remaining in the West while the Spurs are 24-20 with eight games remaining against Western Conference opponents.

If the Spurs and Nuggets are to tie by season’s end, it is essentially a coin-flip on who eventually owns the tiebreaker. The Spurs play nine teams over .500 in their final 11 games, but six of the 11 are in San Antonio. Time will tell.

Utah Jazz

The Jazz, who are currently 40-30 and in the sixth seed in the Western Conference playoff hunt, have battled their way to 2.5 games ahead of the Nuggets. When it comes to tiebreakers, like the Spurs, Utah and Denver split their season series 2-2 so only time will tell who wins the tiebreaker.

Unlike the Spurs, the Nuggets and Jazz are both in the Northwest Division. So, the division records of Denver and Utah come into play for tiebreakers. Denver is currently 6-6 in their division with four games left to play. The Jazz are 6-8 in the Northwest Division with two games left to play.

If the Nuggets end up tying Utah in division record, the Nuggets can likely say goodbye to the tiebreaker. The Jazz have a record of 26-16 against teams in the Western Conference, but they still play nine more Western Conference opponents before the season ends. The Nuggets are 24-23 in the West with five games remaining. With a seven-game lead in the loss column, it is hard to see Denver catching Utah in conference record. That makes every division game even more important.

New Orleans Pelicans

Thanks to the Nuggets’ record of 2-1 against the Pelicans, Denver outright owns the tiebreaker against New Orleans. Considering that FiveThirtyEight has the Pelicans finishing in the eighth seed, that is very good for Denver.

The Pelicans also have a tough stretch of schedule to finish the year. They just finished a back to back on the 17th and 18th of March and now play a rare back-to-back-to-back for the 20th, 21st, and 22nd to make up for a game that was canceled earlier in the year due to the roof of Smoothie King arena leaking onto the court. New Orleans also has to face eight teams above .500 as they play seven of their last 12 games at home.

Minnesota Timberwolves

The Timberwolves are currently 40-31 and have a two-game lead above the ninth and 10th seeded Clippers and Nuggets. Denver currently trails the Timberwolves 0-2 in head to head record with two games still left to be played.

While the Nuggets have not officially lost the tiebreaker, it is as close to a lock for Minnesota as possible. The only way Denver can take control of the tiebreaker over the Timberwolves is if they can pull this off:

  1. Beat the Timberwolves in both meetings upcoming.
  2. The Nuggets need to win all four of their remaining division games — Oklahoma City Thunder, Minnesota (twice), and the Portland Trail Blazers.
  3. The Timberwolves need to lose their three remaining division games –Utah, Denver (twice).

The Timberwolves are 29-15 in the Western Conference with seven games remaining while the Nuggets are 24-23, so it is not possible for the Nuggets to catch up in conference record if a divisional record tie was to occur.

So, Denver can essentially consider their tiebreaker against the Wolves finished. The odds are greatly in Minnesota’s favor.

Los Angeles Clippers

As the Nuggets lost to the Clippers by a score of 122-120 at the Pepsi Center in downtown Denver on February 27th, they also lost the tiebreaker to the Clippers, even with one more matchup remaining on April 7th.

With the Clippers tied with the Nuggets and Denver being one game back in the loss column, Denver needs to do everything in their power to get a full game ahead of the Clippers in the standings. With the Clippers owning the tiebreaker, that makes Denver’s April 7th meeting in Los Angeles against the Clippers a must-win game.

Going 8-3 — or more likely 9-2 — in the final 11 games of an NBA season with the playoffs is already a daunting task, but when taking into account the Nuggets’ remaining schedule and tiebreaker situation, the task can look nearly insurmountable.

The Nuggets have to take on 10 teams over .500 in that 11 game span with seven of those games being on the road. Just having all of those road games to finish the year makes things incredibly tough for the Nuggets to overcome. They are 11-23 on the year on the road. Add in four high-stakes division games that could come into play for tiebreakers with the Utah Jazz, Minnesota Timberwolves and the San Antonio Spurs at the end of the year, and you have a recipe to make every single remaining game essentially a playoff game.

Essentially, the Nuggets have to win every single home game they have left while somehow accumulating another four or five wins on the road.


Like stated earlier, Denver is just 11-23 on the road, so that makes every game at home a must-win for the Nuggets. The Nuggets future must-win home games are:

  • In Denver against Milwaukee on April 1st.
  • In Denver against Indiana on April 3rd.
  • In Denver against Minnesota on April 5th.
  • In Denver against Portland on April 9th.

In addition to the home games, the Nuggets will need to somehow win most, if not all, division games while also scraping together four or five road wins. Of the road games, the specific match-ups that are must-wins are:

  • In Chicago against the Bulls on March 21st.
  • In Oklahoma City against the Thunder on March 30th.
  • In Los Angeles against the Clippers on April 7th.
  • In Minnesota against the Wolves on the final game of the regular season on April 11th.

Makeup games

That leaves just a few games remaining. If Denver loses any of the games listed as “must-wins” above, they will have to make up the loss in one of these three remaining games:

  • In Washington against the Wizards on March 23rd.
  • In Philadelphia against the 76ers on March 26th.
  • In Toronto against the Raptors on March 27th.

That is one obscenely difficult. Luckily, the Toronto Raptors will likely have put significant space between them and the Boston Celtics for the Eastern Conference’s one seed so Denver may catch Toronto sleeping but both Washington and Philadelphia are battling for playoff seeding and will be giving everything they have against Denver.

The road is treacherous, but in the NBA all things are possible and the Nuggets are not eliminated from the playoffs just yet. Time to see what this young Nuggets’ roster is made of.

“There’s still hope,” Paul Millsap said after losing to the Heat in double overtime according to Gina Mizell of the Denver Post. “The door’s not slammed yet.”