Ranking the Nuggets biggest rivalries during the 2022-23 season

Oct 20, 2021; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Phoenix Suns forward Jae Crowder (99) argues with Denver Nuggets forward Aaron Gordon (50) in the second half at Footprint Center. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

On the eve of the NBA’s official schedule release, the NBA world has grown collectively excited for the full picture of the 2022-23 season.

The 2022 offseason is the first offseason that hasn’t been affected since Covid-19 first began to spread in 2020. After the bubble, teams had little more than two months of rest before beginning the 2020-21 season. The 2021 offseason was more normal but still roughly a month shorter than normal. Now, the 2022 offseason feels long by comparison, and fans have grown increasingly rapid for basketball content.

As Nuggets fans get their first look at the new schedule on Wednesday, there will be a number of games they circle on their calendars. Opening night is the first game. The since leaked Christmas matchup against the Phoenix Suns is another. After that, there will be a smattering of games against a variety of teams that will make for interesting matchups.

But which teams do Nuggets fans care about? Which opponents have the most rivalry potential for the upcoming season? Which regular season matchups will all Nuggets fans want to circle on their calendars?

Here are seven opponents every Nuggets fan will want to see fail the most:


1. Phoenix Suns

Star villains: Chris Paul, Devin Booker, Jae Crowder

Storyline intrigue: 9 out of 10

Potential intensity: 10 out of 10

The rings of “Suns in 4” are still loud in many Nuggets fans’ ears after a humiliating loss to the Suns in the second round of the 2020-21 playoffs. Jamal Murray’s absence be damned to Suns fans, who let Nuggets fans hear it after Denver’s MVP couldn’t find a way to win when his team was simply overmatched. The chatter didn’t end either, with the Suns coming into Denver in March of last year and walking the walk with a win after talking plenty of talk before, during, and after the game.

There’s still some bad blood between the Nuggets and the Suns. Jamal Murray and Devin Booker is one of the individual player matchups Nuggets fans enjoy the most (a distant second to another player on the list). It’s no surprise that the Nuggets faltered against the Suns without Murray out there, and he will bring some intensity to the Nuggets side of the matchup. The Nuggets get very annoyed with the flopping from Paul and the tough guy routine from Crowder as well.

The Nuggets are hoping for redemption against the Suns. Their Christmas matchup will go a long way during the regular season, but expect another game or two in the national limelight prior to what may be another playoff matchup.

2. Minnesota Timberwolves

Star villains: Karl-Anthony Towns, Rudy Gobert, Tim Connelly (?)

Storyline intrigue: 9 out of 10

Potential intensity: 9 out of 10

The Timberwolves certainly weren’t on the Nuggets’ radar before the 2021-22 season. The Nuggets hadn’t lost to the Timberwolves since Game 82 of the 2017-18 season until this past year. A competitive race for the sixth seed and some fierce battles between Towns and Nikola Jokić led to some contentious games.

Then, former Nuggets president of basketball operations Tim Connelly took the same job in Minnesota. The circumstances of Connelly’s departure were contentious on the ownership side, and after leading the Nuggets for nine years, fans weren’t happy to see Connelly go to a division rival over a money dispute.

After Connelly got to Minnesota, the T’Wolves made several moves opening them up to some contentious feelings in Denver. The most important move: acquiring Rudy Gobert from the Utah Jazz for a massive haul of draft picks. Jokić and Gobert have had their own battles over the years, and now that both Gobert and Towns are on the same team, there’s plenty of potential for fireworks in this matchup. Minnesota also signed Austin Rivers and Bryn Forbes, both of whom played for the Nuggets last season.

The Timberwolves are hoping to 1-up the Nuggets after nearly passing them last season. The development of Anthony Edwards will be the swing factor of whether this matchup has any legs. It would be even more potent if Malik Beasley, Jarred Vanderbilt, and Patrick Beverley were all still on the team. As it stands, Nuggets fans are not going to want to see the T’Wolves be successful if they can help it.

3. Philadelphia 76ers

Star villains: Joel Embiid, James Harden, 76ers fans

Storyline intrigue: 9 out of 10

Potential intensity: 8 out of 10

If the Sixers were in the Western Conference and faced the Nuggets more than twice a season, then this matchup would vault up the list. The Nuggets and Sixers were tied at the hip when Nikola Jokić and Joel Embiid both proved to be incredibly talented and impactful centers. Both fan bases truly believe their player is better, and the MVP race during each of the last two seasons has proven to be an absolute war online.

In the grand scheme of Denver’s success, this matchup doesn’t mean a ton. Unless the two teams match up in the NBA Finals, they will only ever play twice a year. Still, Jokić and Embiid both take this matchup very seriously, and though they’ve only played each other once in the last 2+ years, it was an epic TNT matchup.

But for two fanbases that have grown very contentious over the course of several years, culminating in battles over the MVP award, these games mean something.

4. Golden State Warriors

Star villains: Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Jordan Poole

Storyline intrigue: 7 out of 10

Potential intensity: 8 out of 10

The Golden State Warriors eliminated the Nuggets swiftly in the first round this past year on their way to another title. Without Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr., the matchup was simply unfair from a talent perspective. Now that the Nuggets are hoping to have their full roster to contend with the Warriors, the matchups will assumably be closer.

It was difficult to hate on the Warriors during their series against the Nuggets. Draymond Green of course did his best to get under the skin of everyone involved, but the general ethos of the Warriors (sans Kevin Durant) is one that’s a lot closer to the Nuggets. They share the ball and make use of the talents of a unique superstar in Stephen Curry, who hasn’t given a reason for Nuggets fans to hate him other than being really good.

There is some redemption potential though. If these matchups get closer and the Warriors begin to feel some pressure, there will be some pushback. Perhaps then, this matchup will have some serious intensity, both in the regular season and the playoffs.

5. Los Angeles Clippers

Star villains: Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Marcus Morris

Storyline intrigue: 7 out of 10

Potential intensity: 7 out of 10

This is where the rivalries really start turning into dislikes more than anything.

After the Nuggets and Clippers matched up against each other in the 2020 bubble playoffs, the matchup has had some interesting moments but nothing too serious. Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Murray, and Porter have all missed extended time, leaving both of these teams as shells of themselves for prolonged periods of time. Assuming the health issues are behind both franchises for the time being, perhaps this matchup can resume in earnest.

When Marcus Morris and Paul Millsap got face to face in Game 5 of the bubble playoffs, that was a high point for the intensity. Since then, Morris has had fewer opportunities to instigate, and Millsap isn’t on the roster anymore. Murray and Aaron Gordon will assumably be more than willing to carry that torch for Denver going forward, but whether they’re carrying it for a good reason or not remains to be seen.

6. Portland Trail Blazers

Star villains: Jerami Grant, Jusuf Nurkić, Damian Lillard

Storyline intrigue: 6 out of 10

Potential intensity: 6 out of 10

This is a rivalry that’s died down in recent years, despite the Nuggets beating the Blazers in the first round of the 2021 playoffs. A disastrous year for the Blazers last year forced sweeping changes, including the trade of longtime shooting guard CJ McCollum. Replacing him is Anfernee Simons, along with a former Nugget: forward Jerami Grant. The Nuggets believed they had a forward of their future in Grant until he abruptly left for the Detroit Pistons. Now that the Blazers have acquired him, the rivalry has a chance to rekindle.

Long ago, Jokić and Jusuf Nurkić were competing for a starting center spot on a 30-win Nuggets team in 2015-16. Immediately after Nurkić was traded to Portland, the Nuggets and Blazers were strong rivals for the better part of three to four seasons. The Blazers beat the Nuggets in the playoffs. Then, the Nuggets beat the Blazers. The battles were good, and Damian Lillard gave the Nuggets plenty of trouble for a long time.

Now, we will see if the sparks are still there for some contentious battles.

7. Los Angeles Lakers

Star villains: LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, Anthony Davis

Storyline intrigue: 5 out of 10

Potential intensity: 7 out of 10

After the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals in the 2020 bubble playoffs, it appeared that a rivalry could be brewing between the two franchises. The history of this matchup has long featured the Lakers beating up on the Nuggets, and Nuggets fans were hoping that would change in the last two years.

Unfortunately, both the Nuggets and Lakers have gone through some difficult seasons of late. The Lakers faltered after their championship run by losing in the first round in 2021. Then, they traded for Russell Westbrook, and everything went off the rails. The Nuggets had their own issues, but while Denver’s issues appear to be literally on the mend, the Lakers don’t appear to be so lucky.

Still, it’s always fun to watch these two teams go after each other. In one of the Lakers-Nuggets games at Ball Arena last year, Westbrook got in a tussle with Aaron Gordon in the midst of a Nuggets blowout win. If the Lakers are able to collect themselves at least a little bit, perhaps the energy in this matchup can look closer to 2020. LeBron James is in the twilight of his career, but Anthony Davis has bounce back potential after a poor 2021-22 campaign. If he plays to his capabilities, then the Jokić-Davis matchup will be exceptional.

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