The Denver Nuggets have one of the most grueling finishes you will ever see on a regular-season schedule.
Unlike last season where the Nuggets had an enormous amount of road games to start the year and played the Miami Heat twice in the first nine contests, 10 of Denver's final 12 games are against playoff teams from last year. This includes two matchups with San Antonio, Memphis, Houston and Golden State.
But there are plenty of showdowns to look forward to before the final stretch.
With several roster changes in the West, there are plot twists to some of Denver's meetings against the better opponents.
In just their third game, the Nuggets will square off with the defending Western Conference champions.
Despite it being in Denver, the San Antonio Spurs are a tough draw for the Nuggets this early. While the Nuggets have a new coach and several new players, San Antonio's roster remains nearly the same.
This puts a lot of pressure on Ty Lawson.
The two teams split the regular-season series last year, but Lawson and Tony Parker did not play in one of Denver's victories. As we saw in the 2013 NBA Finals, when healthy, Parker's value can't be overstated.
The point guards will be the guys to watch in this game. When going up against each other in 2012-13, Parker mostly outplayed Lawson and Ty was minus-48 in Denver's two losses.
If Denver defeats Portland before the contest with San Antonio, the Nuggets will have won 24 consecutive regular-season games at home. There's a good chance that streak will come to an end on November 5.
When the Denver Nuggets and Houston Rockets tangle, both teams can flirt with 100 points by the end of the third quarter.
That could be different in 2013-14 with the changes the Nuggets have made and Dwight Howard joining the Rockets. Defense will be a focus for both of these teams as they gave up over 100 points per game last year.
The battle of Howard and JaVale McGee should be fun to watch, whether it's high-quality basketball or not. Between the two, we can expect eight blocked shots and a pair of dunks that will make us jump off our couches, but we can also expect some atrocious free-throw shooting and poor fundamentals in the post.
For the Nuggets to win, someone is going to have to step up at the 2. Without Andre Iguodala to defend James Harden, Randy Foye or Evan Fournier will get the nod and take on a great deal of responsibility. With Harden's scoring and passing abilities, along with Howard, Chandler Parsons and Jeremy Lin all on the floor at the same time, there will be a lot of one-on-one opportunities.
When that happens, whoever guards Harden needs to force him right as much as possible. The lefty has great footwork and as Rob Mahoney of Sports Illustrated explains, Harden uses the gathering rule to his advantage in getting into the lane effectively.
The Rockets will need some time to develop chemistry with Howard, but it won't be nearly as complicated as it was with the Los Angeles Lakers. Houston prevails in a close one.
It's been two-and-a-half years since Carmelo Anthony left Denver to become the face of the New York Knicks, and it's always special when your former superstar comes back home. By special, I mean the chance to dominate him the day after Thanksgiving.
Melo is 1-2 against the Nuggets since the monstrous trade, including Denver's 117-94 thrashing of New York where the 2012-13 scoring champion only posted nine points. J.R. Smith and Kenyon Martin join Anthony in seeking revenge from the beatdown they received from their former team on national television.
The obvious key will be slowing down Anthony and Smith, but with Andrea Bargnani now on the Knicks roster to provide a more balanced attack, this game should be much closer. Add that Danilo Gallinari will likely need more time to recover from his ACL injury, Wilson Chandler must have a big game and Nate Robinson needs to catch fire in the second half to put the pressure on.
A win would give the Nuggets a huge boost before starting their six-game road trip against the East.
After Nuggets fans enjoy their Thanksgiving feasts and get their shopping done on Black Friday, they will electrify the Pepsi Center. The Nuggets get it done in the clutch.
Something tells me Iguodala won't be getting a standing ovation when his name is announced in front of the Denver fans.
After spending one season with the Nuggets and getting bounced by the Golden State Warriors in the first round, Iggy signed with the enemy and the Warriors now look like Western Conference contenders on paper.
This is the first of four meetings and should be the loudest game of the year at the Pepsi Center.
A lot of the attention will be on Iguodala and Stephen Curry, but without Jarrett Jack, this is a perfect opportunity for Robinson to have a huge game. Robinson is particularly dangerous feeding off a rowdy home crowd and if he makes a few jumpers early, that will get McGee's and Kenneth Faried's motors going on the glass and in transition.
One key matchup to take note of is Faried versus David Lee. Neither player went against each other in the playoffs since Faried was still recovering from his sprained ankle when Lee tore his hip flexor in Game 1.
This game is two days before Christmas and the Nuggets would love to stuff Golden State's stocking with a loss. The Nuggets ride the home crowd to victory and can relax on Christmas Day with three days off.
The Nuggets wrap up each month of the season with a noteworthy opponent and they will close the 2013 portion of the season against the defending NBA champions. The Nuggets pushed the Miami Heat until the final seconds in both of their losses last season and was the only franchise they failed to defeat.
This game serves as an excellent measuring stick for the Nuggets. Two months of the regular season will be in the books and with a little bit of luck, Gallinari will be back and ready to go against the best in the game, LeBron James.
Controlling LeBron's production is a must, but the Nuggets rebounding will give them a chance to celebrate the end of the calendar year. Denver was plus-34 on the glass and grabbed 39 offensive boards in the two contests last year.
More specifically, McGee is the guy to keep an eye on. He came off the bench for 34 points and 15 boards in the two games combined for a plus-24. With McGee as the likely starting center and Greg Oden trying to help Miami's post-presence issues, the two seven-footers could have a fun duel in the paint.
While the Nuggets have played well against the Heat in recent memory and Miami will be concluding a four-game road trip, LeBron will ultimately be too much and the Heat escape with a win.
It's an exciting game as far as playing a top-tier opponent, but Brian Shaw will also be returning to Indiana where he spent the last two seasons as the associate head coach. The Pacers have been a vastly improving franchise and Shaw's contributions have helped them become one of the most physical teams in the NBA.
Both teams have some notable similarities, but they also have some glaring differences. They have balanced offenses and rebound the ball, but the Pacers like to play a half-court game while Denver wants to run.
The frontcourt is where the game will be won.
David West will pound the rock and stand his ground against anyone, while Roy Hibbert protects the rim at 7'2" and continues to improve his offensive game. Faried and McGee love playing above the rim and will try and wear out the opponent with their relentless energy.
Even though the Nuggets have the deeper bench, Indiana's starting five has tremendous balance and should be enough to win at home.
Some may not have high expectations for the Los Angeles Lakers, but when they come to town, there's always that extra motivation to win.
Shaw may feel that as he's facing off against the team he won five titles with as a player and assistant coach.
He won those championships with Kobe Bryant, who has been a thorn in the Nuggets side. The Lakers have ended the Nuggets' playoff runs in three of the last six years.
In two weeks, Kobe will be 35 years old and his time in the league is running out.
The Nuggets won three of four against the Lakers last season, but that doesn't compare to how much success the Lakers have had against them. This contest will be the last of a three-game regular-season series and will set the tone for the five-game East Coast road trip.
Since the meeting is soon after the trade deadline, the rosters could look different, but it's full-steam ahead for Denver. The core of the Lakers is still old and the Nuggets had the best fast-break team in the league last year with 19.7 points.
Denver's depth is too much for the Lakers.
Going up against the best team in your division is always exciting, especially when you won three of four against them the previous season.
This will be the fourth time the Nuggets and Oklahoma City Thunder will tangle in 2013-14, but with the potential of winning the Northwest division in the final weeks, this game could be the biggest. Denver hasn't won the division since the 2009-10 season.
The point-guard matchup is the one to watch. Russell Westbrook lit up the Nuggets for 32.8 points last year, but Lawson wasn't too shabby either and nailed a buzzer-beater in one of Denver's victories. With their speed, the Lawson-Westbrook matchup is a thrill for all basketball fans.
Considering that the game is in Oklahoma City and it's the second game of a back-to-back for Denver, the Thunder should prevail.
This divisional showdown starts one of the toughest finishing stretches you will ever see. Along with facing 10 playoff teams from last season in their last 12 games, Denver will also see a likely improved New Orleans Pelicans squad. Furthermore, all 12 games come against teams from the West and should have a significant impact on the playoff seedings.
With a new head coach and rotation to work with, the Nuggets are fortunate that this gauntlet is coming at the end of the season.