Most national pundits see this as a rebuilding year for the Nuggets, who might fight for an eight seed at best in the Western Conference. We’re a bit more optimistic, and think the Nuggets could surprise some people. Still, the Nuggets real hope is for the not-so-distant future. With the NBA schedule finally released, we examine five games that will give a better look at how the Nuggets might fare down the road. Consider these the games that offer a glimpse into the future – a look into the crystal ball, if you will.

All games are in chronological order…

1. @ Los Angeles Lakers –  Nov. 3, 2015

Sure the Lakers were terrible last year and it seems like Kobe Bryant will never retire. And sure the Clippers are the new hotness in LA, but the Lakers are the Lakers and there’s reason to keep an eye on this early season tilt.

A matchup between the future of the Western conference is a must see. Emmanuel Mudiay will be going head to head with the number two overall pick of the 2015 NBA Draft, D’Angelo Russell. The two playmakers never had the opportunity to go face one another at the collegiate level because Mudiay played a year in China, so the battle of young, star point guards will be interesting to watch.

Plus, as an added bonus, there will be the battle of the big between L.A.’s Julius Randle and the Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic. Jokic, who played phenomenally overseas has the chance to play on that same caliber of level against one of the more talented young big men the league.

2. vs. Miami Heat –  Jan. 15, 2016

Despite what many NBA critics say, the 2016 Miami Heat team is extremely stacked. Led by Goran Dragic, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Gerald Green and Hassan Whiteside this team roster is loaded. This will be one game where Nuggets fans will be able to see just how strong Denver can be on the defensive side of the ball, something that they have slacked on for the past five seasons.

With defense being new coach Mike Malone’s specialty, the schemes he puts in place for the Nuggets to implement will truly be a test of his coaching abilities and this mid-season matchup will show whether or not this “team” has turned over a new leaf and adopted a true team mentality. Even though LeBron is gone, Miami is still a solid roster top-to-bottom – one that should test the young Nuggets.

3. vs. Detroit Pistons – Jan. 23, 2016

Detroit Pistons point guard Reggie Jackson may have been born in Italy, but he’s still a Colorado kid at heart. From sixth-grade to his senior year in high school, Jackson called Colorado home. He graduated from Palmer High School in Colorado Springs in 2008 and won the 2007-08 Gatorade Colorado Boys Basketball Player of the Year award.

Seeing Jackson come home and face off against the new cornerstone of the Nuggets, Mudiay, will be special. The guards differ in their  style of play, with Mudiay being a more pass-first guard while Jackson is more of an attacker.

This is also the penultimate game in an eight-game home stand, the team’s longest of the season. Can the Nuggets stay sharp throughout? Tune in to find out.

4. @ New York Knicks –  Feb. 7, 2016

Forget the tired “Nuggets vs. Melo” storyline. That’s as irrelevant as LaLa these days. This one is all about Mudiay sticking it to yet another team that passed him up on draft night.

This is what the Marc Berman of the New York Post had to say about how Mudiay felt that the Knicks passed him up in the draft:

Nuggets rookie point guard Emmanuel Mudiay told confidants after the draft he was, in retrospect, happy the Knicks passed on him at No. 4, as he was unsure he would have been a good fit for the triangle. Despite public comments to the contrary that he felt team president Phil Jackson could “make me a star,’’ Mudiay said he felt he was a better match in a more freewheeling Denver offense, according to sources.

New York selected the highly controversial Kristaps Porzingis, a Latvian big man. By February, we’ll have a good idea whether the international is headed towards a career that’s more resemblant of superstar Dirk Nowitzki (unlikely), the serviceable Andrei Kirilenko (possible), or uber-bust Darko Milicic (what we’re all secretly rooting for).

5. vs. Dallas Mavericks – March 6, 2016

The team that almost had DeAndre Jordan now has former Denver Nuggets center, JaVale McGee.The Nuggets practically gave McGee away to the Philadelphia 76ers and even had to pay money to wash their hands of him.

McGee will come back to the Mile High City on a mission, to prove to the Denver Brass that they made a huge mistake in trading him away and he still can be a valuable piece to any roster that uses his talents correctly.

Despite winning 50 games last year, Dallas appears to be a team on the brink of disarray (see acquisition: McGee, JaVale). Competing in one of the best divisions in basketball, Dallas figures to take a step backward this season. If Denver is still competing for a playoff spot by the time they reach this early March matchup, this could be an interesting game for multiple reasons.

So set your DVR to the games against Golden State, San Antonio and Cleveland, but don’t miss out on these intriguing tilts as well.

Marcus Flowers, a Mile High Sports intern and Claflin University student, contributed to this report