Well, the unofficial sprint to the postseason starts here.

With the All-Star festivities in the rear-view mirror and only 24 games remaining in the regular season, the Denver Nuggets are itching to get healthy and begin playing games that matter.

It is hard for players to be hyper-motivated in the games leading up to the All-Star break. Everyone is battling one ailment or another, players and coaches begin to get frustrated with one another after working so closely together for so long, and everyone simply needs a break. Now that Denver has had that reprieve from the daily grind of NBA basketball, it is full steam ahead towards the first round of the playoffs.

While most of the focus is on the potential return of Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. from their respective surgeries, one overlooked aspect of their final stretch of the regular season is the opportunity they have over their last 24 games. Let’s start by taking a look at some facts about the remaining Nuggets schedule.

  • The Nuggets have 24 total games left. They will have 14 of them taking place at Ball Arena and nine of them on the road.
  • Denver has just three back-to-backs left, but two of them are connected by one rest day making it a brutal stretch of four-games-in-five-nights featuring the Golden State Warriors as their opponent for the second night of each back-to-back.
  • The Nuggets have just two road trips left this season; a three-game east coast road trip against the Philadelphia 76ers, Washington Wizards, and Cleveland Cavaliers in mid-March as well as a two-game road trip against the Charlotte Hornets and Indiana Pacers to close out the third month of the year. Inversely, Denver will be in the Mile High City for a stretch of two-or-more-games a total of four times before the regular season comes to a close.
  • Of the final 24 games, only seven of them are against a team currently occupying a top-six seed of either conference. On the other hand, 10 of their upcoming 24 games are against teams currently outside of the play-in tournament and in the bottom tier of their respective conferences. Denver is by no means facing a gauntlet in their push to the playoffs.
  • Denver will have chances to rest their core players before the playoffs arrive if they deem it so.

So what does the Nuggets remaining schedule look like and what will the Nuggets record look like by the end of the season? Let’s dive in.

The first nine games after the break

Let’s start with the first nine games the Nuggets will take part in when they resume play on Thursday night.

  • 2/24 @ SAC
  • 2/26 vs SAC
  • 2/27 @ POR
  • 3/2 vs OKC
  • 3/4 vs HOU
  • 3/6 vs NOP
  • 3/7 vs GSW
  • 3/9 @ SAC
  • 3/10 vs GSW

The first two games are a home-and-home set against the new-look Sacramento Kings on Feb. 24 and 26. The Kings sit four losses outside of the 10th seed which would lead to a play-in tournament berth; a clear goal for Sacramento considering they upended most of their roster this trade deadline and moved a highly-valued young lead guard in Tyrese Haliburton in a deal to acquire Domantas Sabonis. That means the Nuggets will get a motivated, rested and more connected Kings team right out of the All-Star break.

After the second matchup with the Kings, Denver flies straight to Portland to take on the Portland Trail Blazers, who were surging behind the play of Anfernee Simons prior to the All-Star break, on the second night of a back-to-back. Still, with Jusuf Nurkic now out for the next month with a left foot injury on top of missing Lillard, the picked-apart Portland roster should be too undermanned to handle the Nuggets.

After their division matchup in Portland, Denver has a four-game homestand over six days against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston Rockets, New Orleans Pelicans and the Golden State Warriors, which comes on the second night of a back to back. It would be advantageous for the Nuggets to take care of business against the less talented duo of the Thunder and Rockets in order to rest their core rotation players on either night of the back-to-back against either the Pelicans or Warriors.

To close out their first nine games back, Denver’s back-to-back against the Pelicans and Warriors turns into a brutal four-games-in-five-nights stretch featuring the Kings and the Warriors for the fourth and fifth games respectively. Once again, Denver resting some of their players one either night of the second back-to-back seems likely.

Denver has a great chance to sprint out of the All-Star break straight into a winning streak if they come into the unofficial second half of the season focused. With their first six games coming against inferior opponents, who’s to say they won’t will every one of them and carry a six-game winning streak into their home matchup with the Warriors?

Regardless, Denver should win no less than six of their first nine games out of the break.

The tough 10 games in the middle

Things do not get much easier for the Nuggets after they complete their brutal four-games-in-five nights stretch. Over their next 10 games, they have both of there remaining road trips — a three-game stretch and a quick two-game road trip — and play against four teams who are currently in the top-six seeds of either conference.

  • 3/12 vs TOR
  • 3/14 @ PHI
  • 3/16 @ WAS
  • 3/18 @ CLE
  • 3/20 vs BOS
  • 3/22 vs LAC
  • 3/24 vs PHX
  • 3/26 vs OKC
  • 3/28 @ CHA
  • 3/30 @ IND

It is not going to be easy to finish up four games in five nights, get one day of rest, and beat the Toronto Raptors even if the Nuggets are at home, but that will be the task in front of them prior to heading out on a three-game road trip; the longest remaining stretch of games away from the Mile High City.

The first game of that road trip has the potential to decide the 2021-22 National Basketball Association’s Most Valuable Player award. On March 14, Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets will fly into Philadelphia to take on Joel Embiid and the 76ers. All season long, it has been a two-man MVP race between Embiid and Jokic. The margins are still razor thin between the two of them so this particular matchup has a chance to swing the narrative surrounding the two dominant centers and ultimately crown the next MVP.

After what is sure to be a battle between Denver and Philadelphia, the Nuggets will finish their road trip by taking on the struggling Washington Wizards before taking on the fourth-seeded Cleveland Cavaliers, who are as impressive as they are young. Denver should have little issue overcoming the Wizards, who despite the odds sit just one game out of the 10th seed in the Eastern Conference which would earn them a ticket to the play-in tournament. But the Cavaliers? That is another problem entirely. Between having the obvious Rookie of the Year in Evan Mobley destroying worlds on defense, Darius Garland scoring from everywhere within half court, and Jarrett Allen controlling the paint on both ends, Cleveland is truly formidable.

After their three-game east coast swing, the Nuggets head back home for a four-game homestand against the Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Clippers, Phoenix Suns and Thunder. While stacking wins at home is important, these games could be meaningful for another reason. Being that it is Denver’s last stretch of home games with just a couple weeks before the playoffs, it represents a possible window for Murray and/or Porter to return and get their legs under them.

To be clear, there has been no timetable put on Murray or Porter’s return, but it makes sense that Denver will want to bring either or both back during a homestand with at least some sort of runway to the postseason. It would allow either Murray and/or Porter to ease back into the rotation in the building they are most comfortable in without having to get on a plane and travel between games. This would allow the Nuggets to properly monitor how Murray’s knee and Porter’s back will respond. Additionally, this stretch of games is early enough before the playoffs for both players to ramp up as the postseason nears. If either are not back by this homestand, it might be time to start wondering if they will return this season at all.

Rounding out the tough 10-game stretch, the Nuggets head out on the road for the final road trip of the 2021-22 regular season. The take on the Charlotte Hornets first before finishing our March in Indiana against the tanking Pacers. The Hornets are jockeying for seeding in the Eastern Conference which means they will be motivated against Denver, but the Pacers have nothing to play for. The Nuggets should beat Indiana if nothing else.

If Denver can find a way to win six of those 10 games, it would be a successful end to March, but as outlined above, that is easier said that done.

The final five-game push to the postseason

Denver has a lower degree of difficulty in their final five games of the regular season with four of them taking place in Denver and only one opponent being a sure-fire playoff team.

  • 4/1 vs MIN
  • 4/3 @ LAL
  • 4/5 vs SAS
  • 4/7 vs MEM
  • 4/9 vs LAL

Only one of their final five games are against an opponent currently in the top-six seeds of either conference, but that does not mean their opponents will be tanking. The Minnesota Timberwolves and Los Angeles Lakers are both currently the seventh and 9th seeds respectively which means they will be playing for their playoff lives when they battle with the Nuggets. Even the San Antonio Spurs — who sit in the 11th seed; just two games out of the play-in tournament — could still be un the hunt when Denver faces them in the Mile High City on April 5th.

One interesting tidbit of the Nuggets final five games is the possibility they are the difference in the Lakers season. Could Denver defeat Los Angeles twice in the final five games of the season and force them into the 10th or 11th seed? Could they push them completely out of the play-in tournament and, in turn, the playoffs? That potential exists and it would be foolish to think Denver would not be motivated to eliminate the Lakers before the playoffs even arrive.

It won’t be a walk in the park, but the Nuggets should be able to come away with three wins over their last five games one way or another; depending if they look to rest players or not.

Denver’s schedule is not the easiest in basketball to close out the regular season, but they should not have any complaints overall. They have plenty of winnable games, multiple opportunities to rest core players, more home games than not, and even a handful of home  games.

It can be hard to predict forward when so many teams either begin tanking, resting their players, or fighting for their playoff lives, but the Nuggets have a chance to go 15-9 over their last 24 games of the season which would bring their record to 48-34 by the end of the season; inching over the 47.5 win total set for them to begin the season according to FanDuel Sportsbook.

While that record might not ultimately change their seeding, it would more-than-likely keep Denver out of the play-in tournament which is priority number one.

Let the race to the playoffs begin.