The Denver Nuggets are an enigma.
You want to buy into the current iteration, but you’re just not sure.
Now throw in (what will be) a four-month layoff due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and you have no idea what to expect.
Given that long layoff, what happened on the court in March doesn’t mean much. So much has changed, it’s basically a brand-new season.
From a Colorado sports betting perspective, that may make the NBA’s return to play even more exciting.
But it makes it a skosh more challenging to assess the 2019-20 Nuggets season thus far.
Right now, Denver holds a regular-season record of 43-22 and is the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference.
NBA return-to-play plan
The NBA will return to play on July 31 in Orlando. Training camps will be July 9-11 in the same location. As ESPN reported on June 4, the NBA board of governors approved the 22-team format to restart the 2019-20 regular season.
This plan is different from the NHL’s return plan from a few weeks ago. The NHL regular season is complete and will start with a play-in tournament before the Stanley Cup playoffs begin.
ESPN noted that under this format, 13 Western Conference teams and nine Eastern Conference teams will play eight regular-season “seeding” games.
Each of the 22 teams will play eight regular season games in Orlando for seeding purposes for the playoffs, sources tell ESPN.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 3, 2020
All NBA games will be played at the Walt Disney World Resort.
As for the teams that will play, the top eight teams of the West and East will be joined by teams within six games of the No. 8 seed in both conferences.
There is the chance for a play-in tournament for the No. 8 seed; it just depends on how those seeding games unfold.
According to ESPN, the play-in tourney happens if the No. 9 seed finishes the regular season within four games of the No. 8 seed. As ESPN notes, in that case, the ninth seed would need to beat the eighth seed twice, while the eighth seed would need one win from the two potential games.
|Western Conference teams||Eastern Conference teams|
|Los Angeles Lakers (49-14)||Milwaukee Bucks (53-12)|
|Los Angeles Clippers (44-20)||Toronto Raptors (46-18)|
|Denver Nuggets (43-22)||Boston Celtics (43-21)|
|Utah Jazz (41-23)||Miami Heat (41-24)|
|Oklahoma City Thunder (40-24)||Indiana Pacers (39-26)|
|Houston Rockets (40-24)||Philadelphia 76ers (39-26)|
|Dallas Mavericks (40-27)||Brooklyn Nets (30-24)|
|Memphis Grizzlies (32-33)||Orlando Magic (30-25)|
|Portland Trail Blazers (29-37)||Washington Wizards (24-40)|
|New Orleans Pelicans (28-36)|
|Sacramento Kings (28-36)|
|San Antonio Spurs (27-36)|
|Phoenix Suns (26-39)|
Current Nuggets and NBA odds
It’s important to keep in mind that there’s no longer a home-court advantage. Teams will play on a neutral court in Orlando, and they will do so without fans.
So the question now is: Does seeding even matter?
What could ultimately decide who wins the NBA Finals is if a team gets hot and carries that momentum throughout the playoffs.
The seeding games and NBA playoffs will have the feel of a high school summer basketball league, just with the best players in the world. How we think of favorites and odds in this format has been flipped on its head.
“We don’t think there’s a team that can beat us in a seven-game series when we’re playing at our best,” Nuggets guard Jamal Murray said to the team website. “When me and Joker (Nikola Jokic) are on, I don’t think there’s anyone who can stop us.
“We’ve probably got the best chemistry out of all of the teams in the league, just because we play so free, so open. We look for each other (on the court) and we’re not selfish.”
Still, the Nuggets remain a long shot to win the Western Conference and NBA Finals.
NBA Finals odds
|Los Angeles Lakers: +250||Milwaukee Bucks: +240|
|Milwaukee Bucks: +250||Los Angeles Lakers: +260|
|Los Angeles Clippers: +333||Los Angeles Clippers: +340|
|Houston Rockets: +1300||Houston Rockets: +1300|
|Boston Celtics: +2000||Boston Celtics: +2000|
|Toronto Raptors: +2200||Toronto Raptors: +2400|
|Philadelphia 76ers: +2800||Denver Nuggets: +2500|
|Denver Nuggets: +3000||Miami Heat: +2700|
NBA Western Conference odds
|Los Angeles Lakers: +160||Los Angles Lakers: +160|
|Los Angeles Clippers: +180||Los Angeles Clippers: +190|
|Houston Rockets: +700||Houston Rockets: +700|
|Denver Nuggets: +1200||Denver Nuggets: +1000|
|Utah Jazz: +1400||Utah Jazz: +1300|
The Nuggets have already qualified for the playoffs. What’s left to decide is Denver’s seeding.
Right now, as noted earlier, the Nuggets are at No. 3 in the Western Conference. But when you look at the teams that Denver will play in its eight games, it could drop.
The Nuggets’ eight opponents:
- San Antonio Spurs (27-36)
- Los Angeles Lakers (49-14)
- Los Angeles Clippers (44-20)
- Oklahoma City Thunder (40-24)
- Toronto Raptors (46-18)
- Miami Heat (41-24)
- San Antonio Spurs
- Oklahoma City Thunder
Needless to say, Denver didn’t get any favors for these games.
The @nuggets will face some tough opponents when the #NBA season resumes.@VicLombardi, @katywinge and @chrisadempsey discuss how they think the team will do!#MileHighBasketball pic.twitter.com/OxBxr0uz4t
— AltitudeTV (@AltitudeTV) June 8, 2020
However, as DenverStiffs pointed out in its recent roundtable, the Nuggets tend to get off to slow starts. If Denver can get off to a fast start, it can carry the momentum of those tough eight games to the playoffs.
But the road for the Nuggets is still tough.
For Denver to reach its first NBA Finals, it will have to go through, in all likelihood, the Clippers and Lakers.
That is, unless something totally unexpected happens in the eight “seeding” games or the first round of the playoffs.
The best-case scenario is Denver sparks fast and holds the No. 3 seed to delay a matchup with the Clippers or Lakers until the Western Conference semifinals. It’s unlikely the Nuggets catch either LA team in the standings. But as noted earlier, since there’s no home-court advantage, that may not matter for Denver.
The Nuggets may remain an enigma, but so is this 22-team format and who is deemed the “favorite.”