The Denver Nuggets enter the 2021-22 season ready to reach the full potential they were robbed of at the end of last year.
After starting the 2020-21 campaign 29-18 through March, disaster struck in the form a torn ACL to star point guard Jamal Murray, ending his season and forcing a Denver team that looked ready to contend for a title to regroup on the fly.
Despite finishing the season 47-25, third in the Western Conference and with MVP Nikola Jokic at the helm, the loss of Murray proved too much to overcome in the postseason. The Nuggets struggled against the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round—winning in six games—before getting swept by the Phoenix Suns in the conference semifinals.
With a largely unchanged roster, the Nuggets are only getting healthier as they prepare to take care of unfinished business.
Here's a look at the road ahead.
2021-22 Nuggets Schedule Details
Season Opener: at Phoenix Suns, Oct. 20 at 10 p.m. ET
Championship Odds: +2000 (FanDuel)
Full 2021-22 Schedule: NBA.com
Utah Jazz (First matchup: Oct. 26)
The Utah Jazz and the Nuggets linked up for an epic three-game series last year as the two best teams in the West. The sequel in 2021-22 should provide more of the same.
Utah won last year's series, 2-1, but the combined score had the rivals deadlocked at 353 apiece. The largest margin of victory by either team last year was 11, and the other two games ended within three possessions.
Another offseason of development for Denver's Michael Porter Jr. and Bol Bol should only add to the elite level of play on the floor.
The Jazz can counter with emerging big man Udoka Azubuike and lock-down defense from Royce O'Neale.
NBA fans were robbed of a Jazz-Nuggets playoff series last year. Their regular-season contests in 2021-22 should help make up for that.
Milwaukee Bucks (First matchup: Nov. 26)
The Nuggets believe they have a championship roster. Milwaukee knows it does.
When the two non-conference contenders match up this season, it won't just be a measuring stick for the Nuggets, it will hopefully prove they are a legitimate threat.
For years, the talk in Milwaukee was that Giannis Antetokounmpo wouldn't be able to win with the Bucks despite capturing multiple MVP awards. Instead, he may have provided a blueprint for Jokic to win in Denver.
Both unicorns will highlight one of the league's top matchups of the year between the title contenders.
After splitting a season series last year with one win apiece, any advantage the Nuggets can show they hold over the NBA champions may be a harbinger for future postseason success.
At the very least, the matchup offers two extremely talented rosters going at it in packed arenas. That alone makes it a must-watch encounter.
Last season ended with too many "what ifs" for the Nuggets. The 2021-22 campaign is about answering those questions and then some.
First and foremost, the health and effectiveness of Murray will be the dominant storyline. If the guard can't return to the level he was at before his injury (21.2 points, 4.8 assists, 47.7 FG% per game), Denver may have to seriously consider looking at the trade market or remaining free agents to recreate the type of success in the backcourt.
The Nuggets also need Jokic to continue playing like the MVP.
After averaging 26.4 points, 10.8 rebounds and 8.3 assists per night, the triple-double machine needs to keep everything in sync as the team's motor in the middle. From there, the Nuggets have all the pieces they need to get to the NBA Finals.
Porter should earn some All-Star consideration this year, Will Barton can help stretch the floor against almost any defense, and Aaron Gordon provides another high-flying option at power forward who can clean up any misses at the rim with ease.
This is a championship-or-bust team. After the disappointment of last year, it has a point to prove moving forward.
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