12 Must-Watch Denver Nuggets Games To Circle On The Calendar

With the release of the 2019-20 NBA schedule earlier this week, the annual ritual of flagging marquee games featuring superstar players and key matchups is in full swing. As the young Denver Nuggets continue their patient march toward title contention in the star-studded Western Conference, becoming at once a more formidable opponent and a bigger target for top competition around the league, the challenge is less to identify games to get excited about than whittling the list down to a manageable size.

My initial breakdown of Denver’s upcoming schedule keyed in on analyzing the Nuggets’ increase in nationally broadcast games, exploring the home-versus-road dynamics, and crunching the numbers on back-to-backs and strength of schedule. Here we take a deeper dive into the nitty gritty of some of the most critical and thrilling matchups Denver will face in their 2019-20 journey, circling 12 games on the calendar which should not be missed.

12 Must-Watch Denver Nuggets Games To Circle On The Calendar (All Times Eastern)

Season Opener On The Road At The Portland Trail Blazers

  • October 23, 10 p.m., ESPN

Revenge! The Nuggets won’t have to wait long for their chance to strike back against the team that bounced them from the playoffs in game seven of the second round last May. The Blazers will bring a slightly different look, having made a number of offseason trades and free agency signings, but are still led by the star duo of point guard Damian Lillard and shooting guard C.J. McCollum, whose 37-point game seven explosion was ultimately Denver’s undoing in the postseason. The game will also be the first of the Nuggets’ 17 nationally televised games (not including NBA-TV).

Home Versus Joel Embiid’s Philadelphia 76ers

  • November 8, 9:00 p.m.

Who is better, Nikola Jokic or Joel Embiid? Anyone who has spent even a small amount of time on NBA Twitter has seen the debate protracting ad nauseum, and fans who have staked claims on either side will be chomping at the bit for a chance to see it played out on the court. The fact that Jokic was voted over Embiid for All-NBA First Team center has only fueled the fire, and with Philly projected to be the second-best team in the East according to oddsmakers’ over/under win total projections, it will be a great opportunity for both teams to see how they measure up across conferences.

Home Versus The Recalibrating Boston Celtics

  • November 22, 9:00 p.m.

Boston fans always turn out for games at the Pepsi Center, and they have no love for Jamal Murray after he capped his 48-point drubbing of the Celtics last November with an attempt to score 50. Another projected Eastern Conference power, the Celtics went through a disappointing season last year and will be looking to bounce back with a lineup which now features Kemba Walker at starting point guard after Kyrie Irving (who tossed Murray’s game ball into the stands) departed to sign with the Brooklyn Nets.

Home Versus The LeBron-AD Los Angeles Lakers

  • December 3, 9:00 p.m.

The Lakers are back! Maybe. Many thought they’d be back last season after landing LeBron James, but his extended injury absence and (ahem) other roster issues culminated in L.A.’s sixth consecutive losing season and playoff absence. Now the new-new-look Lakers featuring the recently-acquired Anthony Davis as LeBron’s latest co-pilot will make their first appearance against the Nuggets in this game at the Pepsi Center, and it’s safe to say that with a lot to prove they’ll be brining their A-game. It’ll be up to the Nuggets fans in Denver to get loud and drown out the all-too abundant L.A. transplants to help their team defend home court.

Home For Christmas Versus The New Orleans Pelicans

  • December 25, 10:30 p.m., ESPN

One of the most tangible signs that the Nuggets have returned to relevancy in the league is making the cut for the NBA’s Christmas Day slate of games, and the fact that the Pelicans’ lineup showcases number one overall draft pick Zion Williamson means a whole lot of eyeballs will be glued to the game. In the day’s fifth and final matchup, Denver will have a great chance to win an entertaining game in front of a national audience and leave a lasting impression.

On the Road Against The Doncic-Porzingis Dallas Mavericks

  • January 8, 7:30 p.m., ESPN

Aside from not being a holiday game, this one has a lot in common with aforementioned Pelicans game. Both are nationally broadcast and against Western Conference opponents who aren’t projected to make the playoffs, but are big draws nonetheless due to their exciting young stars. In the Mavs’ case this means 2019 Rookie of the Year Luka Doncic, along with Kristaps Porzingis, who will be returning this season following a 20-month injury absence and, like Jokic, is often lumped into the “unicorn” category of skilled centers. It’s a winnable game for Denver, but Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle always has a knack for making it tough to win in Dallas.

Home Versus Russell Westbrook’s Houston Rockets

  • January 26, 3:30 p.m., NBATV

2018 MVP James Harden will still be the Top Dog in Houston, but 2017 MVP Russell Westbrook, sent to the Rockets in an offseason trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder for Chris Paul, is the factor that makes the team’s dynamics fascinating. Over the past five seasons combined, Westbrook and Harden are first and second respectively in usage rate among qualified players per Basketball-Reference, and how the two ball-dominant halves of Houston’s new core will share ball-handling responsibilities will be a major NBA subplot this season. Last February, the Nuggets finally got a win against the Rockets after losing to them nine straight times. It’s been a terrible matchup for them in recent history, but with Westbrook bringing les formidable defense and more ball stickiness than Paul, and with Denver’s continued improvement, the scales may at last be more evenly balanced.

Home Versus The Revamped Utah Jazz

  • January 30, 10:30 p.m., TNT

Like the Nuggets, Utah was among the teams whose offseason was graded favorably this year, and for good reason. Mike Conley, acquired in a trade with Memphis, is a major upgrade over Ricky Rubio, and free agent haul Bojan Bogdanovic adds additional firepower the Jazz were sorely lacking. Every game against division rivals will be critical for Denver’s playoff seeding this season, but none more so than those versus Utah, the only Northwest team projected by Vegas to finish with more wins than the Nuggets. And with Utah being one of the toughest teams to beat on their home court, the stakes for beating the Jazz at the Pepsi Center are all the higher.

On The Road Against The Los Angeles Clippers And The New Leonard-George Superduo

  • February 28, 10:30 p.m., ESPN

Although this will be the second of three games the Nuggets play against the Clippers, it is the only one which will be broadcast nationally, and the only one Denver will play away from home. With the Clippers projected by the oddsmakers and many analysts as favorites to win the 2020 NBA Finals after signing Kawhi Leonard and trading for Paul George, the Nuggets’ matchups against them will be a good barometer of how Denver stacks up against the team that will ostensibly be the best in the league.

Home Versus Giannis’ Milwaukee Bucks

March 9, 9:00 p.m., NBATV

Denver lost both games of the season series to the Bucks last year in large part due to having no defensive answer to Giannis Antetokounmpo. But they may have a better solution for the reigning MVP following the addition of forward Jerami Grant, who in recent seasons has demonstrated a solid aptitude for defending Giannis. It’s another chance to measure up against the league’s most formidable competition, and win or lose, opportunities to watch Antetokounmpo in action should never be passed up.

On The Road Against The “Still Steph’s Team” Golden State Warriors

  • March 31, 10:00 p.m., TNT

The Warriors may no longer be the unstoppable powerhouse they once were with Kevin Durant gone and Klay Thompson expected to be out for the majority of the season. But any team featuring Steph Curry and Draymond Green (and perhaps even a returned Thompson by this late point in the season) is not to be taken lightly. The “rising stars vs. former champs in decline” narratives are sure to consume a lot of the media oxygen, and the Nuggets have a great chance to prove – with the TNT crew in tow – that the changing of the guard is real.

Season Closer On The Road At The Utah Jazz

  • April 14, 10:00 p.m., TNT

Like the season opener, the closer is also both on the road and on national TV. It’s always impossible to predict when real seeding stakes will be on the line in the final game of a season, or when teams will have their place in the standings locked up and use that as a chance to rest their star players. But with only six games having separated the second-through-eighth seeds in the Western Conference, the last game of the season really could have consequences. And what a high regular season note it would be to end on if Denver was able to beat Utah in their own house and take that momentum into the playoffs.

Honorable Mentions

There are several Nuggets opponents I wanted to include on this list but ultimately could not squeeze in: Trae Young’s Atlanta Hawks, the division rival Timberwolves which features the always-entertaining Karl-Anthony Towns vs. Nikola Jokic matchup; an attempted revenge game by the San Antonio Spurs; the new-look Nets featuring Kyrie Irving.

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I've covered the Nuggets since 2005, writing for Forbes, BSN Denver, Roundball Mining Company, and more. Follow me on Twitter at @JoelRushNBA, where my views are my own

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