It should be seen as a relief that the Denver Nuggets made it through their first 19 games relatively unscathed.

A 12-7 record despite a league leading 13 road games underscores what has been a difficult opening stretch for Denver. With eight new players, a new starting lineup, and two stars working way back into form, many expected the Nuggets to struggle early. Those struggles have manifested in Denver’s entirely new bench unit though, not necessarily the starting lineup.

Nikola Jokić and the starters have all played in 11 total games together, playing 172 minutes and outscoring opponents by 17.4 points per 100 possessions. The only other lineup to play more minutes together and exceed Denver’s winning margin is the Golden State Warriors starting lineup. Surprisingly, Denver’s strength has been its balance, scoring 119.0 points per 100 while allowing just 101.6 points per 100, one of the lowest defensive ratings of any starting lineup.

Denver’s issues have stemmed from the majority of lineups that don’t feature their intended starting five. In all of Denver’s games so far, they outscored opponents by a total of 13 points across 917 minutes. The starting lineup by itself has outscored teams by 66 points. That means all other lineups have been outscored by 53 points.

Remove the two primary Bruce Brown lineups in place of either Jamal Murray or Michael Porter Jr., and the Nuggets are -88 in 612 minutes. That’s bad, and it emphasizes just how much worse Denver’s answers are to various problems posed by other teams the further down Denver’s rotation. Bones Hyland has played just 13 of Denver’s 19 games and has been up and down from night to night. Jeff Green was likely to be Denver’s most reliable backup in the frontcourt, but that hasn’t quite manifested either. Before he missed the last three games, Green had made a three-pointer in just three of Denver’s 16 games. Given DeAndre Jordan’s presence in the middle of the floor most nights, other positions spacing the floor well is extremely important on the second unit.

Speaking of DeAndre Jordan, the Nuggets have a -6.2 net rating in his 239 minutes. The 109.6 defensive rating is fine, but the Nuggets are scoring just 103.4 points per 100 possessions with Jordan out there, and his weaknesses (floor spacing, bad hands, turnover prone) certainly contribute to that. He’s not the entire problem, but the fact that he sets the best screens on the bench unit may not be enough to justify an every day role for him.

In the past week, the Nuggets have experimented with playing Zeke Nnaji and Vlatko Čančar more and more. The young power forwards each have enough skills to emphasize some of what Bones Hyland and Bruce Brown do well. Nnaji and Čančar have also each proven to play with better energy and mobility than Green and Jordan so far. That might just be an early season veteran thing, but Nnaji and Čančar have each made plays to help the Nuggets win games the last couple of weeks. They’ve earned more time to see what they can do with Bones for extended minutes.

The Nuggets basically have an entire bench rotation to figure out. They’ve messed around with staggering one of Murray or Porter. They’ve brought in Caldwell-Pope and Jokić earlier than normal when the pressure’s really on. Perhaps extended minutes for Aaron Gordon (now Denver’s surprising second leading scorer) could provide some additional stability in the frontcourt. Perhaps it’s a combination of the answers above, or that there’s no set rotation to use from game to game and is instead entirely matchup dependent.

The great thing for the Nuggets though: they’re now entering the “figure things out” zone of their schedule.

After playing 13 of their first 19 games on the road, the Nuggets will play 20 of their next 28 games at home. They have separate home stands of four, four, and five games during that stretch, and the longest road trips are merely two games. The Nuggets will be spending a lot of time in Ball Arena for December and January, meaning there will be opportunities to settle in, find a rhythm, and play in a comfortable environment.

Now, the games themselves aren’t easy. Of Denver’s next 28 games, 17 of them are against teams currently in the playoff picture (top eight seeds). In addition, there will be four sets of back-to-backs, meaning Denver’s unlikely to have a full rotation for at least the front or back end of those.

But there are definitely signs that the Nuggets are trending in a great direction and are ready to reel off some wins. Jokić is currently shooting 64.6% from the field in November, and he has had a double-digit positive plus-minus in all but one game during that stretch (loss to Boston Celtics). Joker has rounded into form in November and is playing some of the best basketball of his career, even if the individual numbers are a bit understated. It’s clear that Jokić is demonstrating as much control over a game as he’s ever showed before.

Murray’s performances have been far more volatile, but his minutes continue to trend in the right direction. He has exceed 30 minutes in eight of the last 10 games, averaging 18.4 points, 6.1 assists, and 4.3 rebounds per game during that stretch. The shooting percentages remain subpar for him, but the turnovers have dropped, only averaging 1.9 turnovers per game in the last 10.

Porter’s performances began more consistent but have become far more erratic of late. MPJ’s dealing with a left heel contusion that Michael Malone described as “very painful” at practice on Sunday. Porter will have an opportunity to rest up over these next two home games against the Houston Rockets if need be, but the Nuggets will eventually need Porter back on track.

Many things have an opportunity to come together over the next 28 games. Murray and Porter should be better than they were during the first 19 games. There will be opportunities to solidify the bench unit with different functional groups. There will be plenty of time to get Bones going again upon his return.

More than anything though, the Nuggets have an opportunity to win a lot of games. They’ve found ways to win during a heavy road schedule. Life should get easier for Denver at home. Players like Bones, Zeke, Christian Braun, and other young guys should have plenty of opportunities to work through mistakes. Murray will have plenty of time to iron out some deficiencies in his game. Porter should find more open threes at home than he does on the road.

Finally, the Nuggets can really focus in on their defense. On the road, the Nuggets have allowed 117.0 points per 100 possessions in road games. That ranks 27th among all NBA teams. At home in just six games, the Nuggets have allowed 107.3 points per 100, which ranks 10th among all teams at home. it’s a small sample size, but the Nuggets may simply gain more energy and motivation to do the extra stuff in front of the home crowd. Denver will play nearly half of all of their home games within a two month span, so that theory will be put to the test.

The Nuggets have a great opportunity to bank some wins at home while they iron out the kinks. If they can take advantage, they will be sitting near the top of the West standings when February rolls around, in fantastic position to claim home court in a playoff series sooner rather than later.