Nuggets 2021 Schedule: Top Games, Updated Championship Odds and PredictionsFebruary 24, 2021
The Denver Nuggets are still trying to find their footing this season, but they have rebounded from a slow start to put themselves in playoff contention heading into the second half.
Of course, the biggest reason for Denver's success is Nikola Jokic. The Serbian big man is an MVP front-runner with an average of 27.0 points, 10.9 rebounds and 8.4 assists per game thus far.
Jokic has been the driving force behind one of the NBA's best offenses. Michael Porter Jr. is emerging as a dominant scoring threat with 13.8 points per game on 38.3 percent shooting from three-point range. Jamal Murray has struggled to find consistency, but he still ranks second on the team with 21.0 points per contest.
After reaching the Western Conference Finals last season, expectations were high for the Nuggets in 2020-21. They haven't yet played up to that potential, but there's still time for them to make noise in a deep Western Conference.
Here's the schedule the Nuggets will face coming out of the All-Star break, as well as a look at their key matchups and a final record prediction.
2020-21 Nuggets Second-Half Schedule
Second-Half Opener: at Memphis Grizzlies on March 12 (8 p.m. ET)
Championship Odds: +3000 (via FanDuel)
Second-Half Schedule: NBA.com
vs. Utah Jazz (May 7 at 10 p.m. ET)
The Utah Jazz are sitting in the position the Nuggets occupied the previous two seasons: atop the Northwest Division standings.
In fact, the Jazz have played so well this season that there's a strong argument they are the biggest threat to the Los Angeles Lakers to represent the west in the NBA Finals.
The Nuggets and Jazz have already played twice in the first half, with both teams winning once. Their most recent meeting was a 128-117 victory by the Nuggets on Jan. 31. That game snapped Utah's streak of 11 consecutive wins and marked the second-most points it has allowed in a game (130 to Brooklyn on Jan. 5).
Jokic was an unstoppable force in that game with 47 points, 12 rebounds and five assists.
It seems unlikely the Nuggets are going to catch the Jazz in the division race, but their ability to have success against them in the regular season could be an indicator that they are able to make another deep postseason run.
Denver also needs to accrue as many wins as possible to avoid being relegated to the play-in tournament. The team is currently the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference, but only one game behind the San Antonio Spurs and Portland Trail Blazers in the race for the fifth spot.
vs. Portland Trail Blazers (April 21 and May 16)
The most interesting race in the Northwest Division right now is the Blazers' battle for second with Denver.
Portland currently has the edge over its division rival, but its 18-13 record is only a game better than the Nuggets' 17-14 mark. These two teams played on Tuesday night, with the Nuggets getting a crucial 111-106 win.
That could work in Portland's favor because CJ McCollum, who has been out since Jan. 16 when he suffered a hairline fracture in his left foot, could be back in the second half. The team hasn't provided an official timetable for his potential return.
McCollum was playing the best basketball of his career with 26.7 points per game on 44.1 shooting from three-point range.
The Nuggets and Blazers are similar in that they are led by high-powered offenses that have to cover for many holes on defense.
Assuming the Jazz have the division locked down, the loser between the Nuggets and Blazers might be forced to settle for a play-in spot. The Blazers were in that spot last season and beat the Memphis Grizzlies in the play-in tournament before getting eliminated from the postseason by the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Nuggets used to rely on Murray to determine their ultimate ceiling because they knew what Jokic was going to provide but needed a second star to support their all-world center.
Things worked out last season during the restart when Murray played like a superstar. The 24-year-old averaged 26.5 points and 6.6 assists per game with a 50.5 field-goal percentage (45.3 percent from three) in 19 playoff games.
That's the only time Murray has consistently played at that level, making it hard to bet on him as the answer next to Jokic.
Fortunately, the Nuggets don't have to depend solely on Murray anymore. Porter's offensive game contains shades of what a young Kevin Durant was doing for the Oklahoma City Thunder. He still has to get better on defense to become a superstar, but the upside is there.
Jokic and head coach Michael Malone need to prioritize Porter's development in the second half to push this Nuggets team into the upper tier of Western Conference teams. Even though he might be one year away from fulfilling that potential, the team remains a safe bet to make the playoffs.
Record Prediction: 39-33
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