The 2013-14 season was a forgettable one for the Denver Nuggets. Hardly in the mix for the postseason, the team finished 36-46—one of only six teams in the West to finish below .500—and were 13 spots behind the Dallas Mavericks for the final playoff spot.
Some good did come out of last season, though, as Denver secured a lottery pick in the 2014 NBA draft. The Nuggets then made a draft-night trade with the Chicago Bulls to acquire Gary Harris and Jusuf Nurkic.
Along with their draft picks, the Nuggets also acquired Arron Afflalo from the Orlando Magic on draft night, making it quite an eventful night for the organization.
Afflalo spoke about the chance to return to the team with which he started his career, per Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post:
I'm excited. My whole career has been about maturity and growth, and Denver is the first team that gave me the opportunity to grow.
[...] It feels good to come back as a better player and somebody that can really impact this current team and the franchise.
Harris had a great Summer League showing, averaging 18.6 points, 4.2 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game during the five games played. While his time in Las Vegas included plenty of scoring, he'll have to improve upon his .321 shooting percentage during the regular season.
With many of the same pieces returning this season, and some youth invigorated into the lineup, the Nuggets have reason for optimism. Following the announcement of the regular-season schedule, here's a look at the top games and outlook for the Nuggets in 2014-15.
* Full schedule can be found at the Nuggets official site.
Most Intriguing Matchups
Denver Nuggets vs. Houston Rockets, Dec. 13
When it comes to adding assets and building a team, the Houston Rockets are clearly where the Nuggets want to be.
After adding James Harden two years ago, the Rockets brought in Dwight Howard last season and instantly became a playoff team during the 2013-14 campaign. Meanwhile, the Nuggets were on the outside looking in after injuries derailed what looked to be a promising year.
The Rockets made a desperate attempt this summer to add Carmelo Anthony, but came up short. As for the Nuggets, the addition of Afflalo gives them more offense to contend with Houston and the rest of the West.
Following a season where they went 1-2 against the Rockets, the Nuggets will need more success against them. With new pieces and healthy ones, knocking off Houston could mean a lot for the franchise as they make a run at a playoff spot.
Denver has other franchises that they are rivals with in their division, but the Rockets are a team on the rise. If the Nuggets plan to make the postseason, the Rockets will be a team in their way that they must take care of this year. This matchup will thus be a good barometer of their progress.
Denver Nuggets vs. Los Angeles Lakers, Nov. 23
In three of its last six trips to the postseason, Denver has been knocked out by the Los Angeles Lakers.
While the sting of those losses has lessened at this point, both teams come into the season looking to contend for a playoff spot. Both are reinvigorated with youth and hoping some rookies and offseason additions can make a difference.
As for the young players in this matchup, the Lakers hope to see similar success from the Summer League against the Nuggets:
The Summer League might not quite be the regular season, but Julius Randle will play a huge part in this game as well.
Last season, the Nuggets downed the Lakers in four of their five matchups and will likely have to do the same if they plan to contend in the Western Conference. In a division with the Portland Trail Blazers and Oklahoma City Thunder, overcoming the teams on the cusp of the playoffs will be crucial.
If both teams plan to make the postseason this year, this rivalry might just heat up yet again. With a healthy Kobe Bryant and entire Nuggets starting lineup, this will be a matchup to watch as the two teams look to crack the playoff picture.
Championship Odds and Prediction
Ahead of the regular season, the oddsmakers at OddsShark.com give the Nuggets a 100-1 chance to take the title. Just seven teams sit behind Denver, so the thought is that it clearly doesn't have the best chance at winning the NBA Finals.
As with any franchise not given a chance to compete for a title, the Nuggets have plenty of optimism as the underdog in the West. Head coach Brian Shaw spoke about the team's chances this year to be a force, per Aaron Lopez of Nuggets.com:
We keep using the word ‘health,’ but that kind of dictated everything this year. There were a lot of things we weren’t able to find out.
I’m still excited about the fact that if we are healthy and we have a full complement of players, we’re in the mix (to make) the playoffs. I don’t know if there needs to be full-scale changes made (in the offseason), other than seeing what we can do with a healthy roster.
Of those healthy players, Danilo Gallinari, JaVale McGee, J.J. Hickson and Nate Robinson are all on the list. Those injuries offered opportunities for several young players, but there is true reason for hope heading into this season.
As for Afflalo's thoughts on this upcoming season, he was pretty clear where he thought the team could wind up, per Lopez:
I’ll be blunt. I believe this is a championship team. It’s hard for the casual fan to fathom that because you don’t see big-market stars.
[...] To have a team that I feel is pretty much 2-deep at every position in talent and experience and hunger to compete and prove themselves as players, I think this is a team with the caliber to make a run for a title.
While competing for a championship will have to be proven throughout the year, this is definitely a talented group. If all of the pieces remain healthy, this should be a playoff team by the end of the regular season.
The depth on the roster and the fact that young players had to step up last year will help this team. After a disappointing season in 2013-14, the Nuggets will squeak into the playoffs as a No. 7 or No. 8 seed.
Record Prediction: 45-37
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