While Nikola Jokic and Bones Hyland were repping the Denver Nuggets during All-Star weekend in Cleveland, the team was preparing for its final push toward the postseason.
When taking a look at Denver’s upcoming schedule, it appears things could begin on a high note.
The Nuggets entered the break with a run of three straight victories. If Denver can come back focused, it has a chance to expand that into a more meaningful winning streak.
That would certainly buoy the Nuggets’ futures odds at online sportsbooks in Colorado. Most currently have Denver in the range to win the Western Conference and the neighborhood to win the NBA title.
But way before any of that, the Nuggets will be focusing on getting the stretch run off to a successful start.
Two of their first three games are on the road. However, the three contests are more than winnable.
And that could present a prime opportunity for some Colorado Nuggets betting.
Kings serve as opponent in first 2 games back
Denver begins the stretch run with a two-game set against the new-look Sacramento Kings.
The first game is Thursday in Sacramento. The return game is set Saturday night in the Mile High City.
The Nuggets (33-25) certainly are better than the Kings (22-38) on paper.
And that’s even after the trade deadline where Sacramento clearly got better.
But the Kings are still an unknown entity after shaking up their roster.
Buddy Hield, Marvin Bagley, Tristan Thompson and Tyrese Haliburton are out. They have been replaced by Donte DiVincenzo, Domantas Sabonis, Jeremy Lamb, Josh Jackson, Justin Holiday and Trey Lyles.
The Kings are 2-2 since the shakeup. It’s largely thanks to the offensive boost that came from the chemistry between holdover De’Aaron Fox and Sabonis.
In the first 117 minutes Fox and Sabonis have shared the court as teammates, the Kings are posting an offensive rating of 119.5.
That’s more than three points better than the league-leading Utah Jazz who have a 115.9 offensive rating on the season.
On defense, the Fox-Sabonis pairing is not the same feel-good story.
Sacramento has a 117.7 defensive rating in those 117 minutes. That would be the worst full-season rating in the league.
If the Nuggets play their style and do not take the Kings lightly, they should be able to score at will.
Denver also has the means to slow the Kings’ offensive attack. That’s if the Nuggets can force the Kings into mid-range shots, contest those shots with urgency and secure defensive rebounds.
Trip to Portland closes out weekend
After the second battle with the Kings on Saturday, the Nuggets will hop on a flight to Portland. There, on Sunday night, they’ll encounter the picked-over roster of the Trail Blazers.
Has the Portland roster been completely flipped over?
Yes, but one player who stayed around has been spectacular despite the chaos.
Anfernee Simons — with Damian Lillard out with injury and CJ McCollum traded to New Orleans — has stepped into the lead-guard role and thrived.
Prior to the trade deadline, Simons strung together four-straight games in which he finished with exactly 19 points. Then, after McCollum was moved, Simons proceeded to average 30.3 points over his next four outings.
If Denver’s defense does not stay connected on Simons when he is running elevated pick and rolls, Portland could pull off the upset.
Simons is averaging more than 12 3-point attempts per game over his last four contests. That includes going 7-of-16 from beyond the arc against the reigning champion Milwaukee Bucks on Feb. 14.
Denver has to know Simons will let it fly from deep at any time.
Simons, however, also can get to the rim and is becoming more adept at scoring in the mid-range.
In any case, he is the catalyst of the Blazers’ offense.
If Denver can slow Simons, Portland has little chance of prevailing.
So all three games are more-than-winnable if Denver takes them seriously.
Once they get past that stretch, a run of four straight home dates awaits.
Nuggets begin March with 4-game homestand
After the back-to-back against the Kings and Trail Blazers, the Nuggets will get two days off before beginning the first game of a four-game homestand.
Denver will face off against the Oklahoma City Thunder (March 2), Houston Rockets (March 4), New Orleans Pelicans (March 6) and Golden State Warriors (March 7, on the second night of a back-to-back).
If the Nuggets can take care of business in those first three games, who’s to stay they couldn’t peel off a six-game winning streak directly after the All-Star break?
Neither the Thunder or Rockets have much of anything to play for this season. And the Pelicans are barely holding onto their play-in tournament hopes.
Denver is better than all three teams, and losing to any of them at home would constitute a bad loss.
The Thunder’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander gives the Nuggets issues as he does almost every other foe.
But the only chances Oklahoma City has of slowing Jokic are hopes and dreams. So long as Jokic can just get the bare minimum help from his teammates, a rested Denver team should take care of the Thunder.
The Rockets are simply one of the worst teams in the NBA this season. Denver has no business losing to a team which turns the ball over on nearly 17% of its possessions and has the lowest-ranked defense in the league by a few miles.
The new-look Pelicans, now with McCollum, have the skill to make life tough for the Nuggets. But once again, there is little hope for them when it comes to limiting Jokic from doing whatever it is he pleases.
Like the matchup vs. Simons and Trail Blazers, if the Nuggets can limit McCollum, most of the Pelicans’ offensive impact will wane dramatically.
To conclude its homestand, Denver faces the same 42-17 Golden State team it defeated entering the All-Star break.
While there is by no means any sure-fire way for the Nuggets to beat Golden State, they have proven time and again that when locked in and in rhythm, the Nuggets can win this matchup.
And that’s even if All-Star Draymond Green returns from his back injury. It is because, like most every other team, they have no concrete answer for Jokic who defies the basis of the Warriors’ hyper-active defensive philosophies.
If Denver is hot entering the Golden State game, maybe it will have the juice to defeat one of the best teams in basketball.
But it certainly will be very difficult on the second night of a back-to-back.