The NBA’s return-to-play format is in place, and the Denver Nuggets have eight more regular season games to position themselves for the first round.
As regular-season play halted due to Covid-19, circumstances left the Denver Nuggets stuck in an unlikely, nightmare first-round matchup with the Houston Rockets. As the hiatus grew longer, chatter emerged regarding a possible direct postseason return, a proposition that would cement the current seedings.
The Nuggets caught a break, however, when the agreed-upon format was revealed, featuring eight additional regular season games to determine seeding. As it stands, Denver has a second chance to create its own destiny.
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Now that several outcomes are possible, it’s time to scrutinize Western Conference opponents top-to-bottom, analyzing favorable and unfavorable matchups.
The Nuggets currently sit perched as the 3-seed, equally placed at 1.5 games behind the Clippers (presently in the 2-slot) and 1.5 games above the Utah Jazz (4th place). Denver’s only mathematic impossibility is falling below the 7-seed, so sharp play throughout the eight games is important.
Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Lakers have all but secured the 1-seed, and they’re a common pick to win the title. The LA Clippers, barring extreme circumstances, won’t be Denver’s first-round opponent, as both squads should likely finish top-4. These Hollywood squads can be removed from the opening matchup discussion.
The eighth seed is interesting, as the Memphis Grizzlies lead the way, yet find the Portland Trail Blazers, New Orleans Pelicans and Sacramento Kings nipping at their heels. However, it’s nearly impossible for Denver to obtain the 1-seed, or for the 8-seed to move up, so let’s exclude these teams from the discussion as well.
This leaves a high probability that the Denver Nuggets face the Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets, Oklahoma City Thunder or Utah Jazz in the first round, as these squads jockey for the 4-7 spots. All four teams are within 2.5 games of each other, so anything could happen here. The Jazz hold a one-game lead on the Rockets and Thunder, who are tied at the fifth spot. Dallas trails the pair by 1.5 games, so they are less likely to jump everyone and obtain the 4-seed.
Which of these squads do the Nuggets match up well with? If late games determine positioning, will Denver want to coincidentally rest starters for *cough* injury-management purposes? Let’s examine potential first-round matchups, ranked by desirability, as we explore who the Denver Nuggets could face in the opening series: