Why do the Denver Nuggets have the easiest schedule for 2022-23?

The exterior of Ball Arena is seen before the game between the Denver Nuggets and the San Antonio Spurs on 5 Apr. 2022 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by C. Morgan Engel/Getty Images)
The exterior of Ball Arena is seen before the game between the Denver Nuggets and the San Antonio Spurs on 5 Apr. 2022 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by C. Morgan Engel/Getty Images) /

I remember listening to The Lowe Post podcast, back in the Grantland days, and the host, Zach Lowe, was speaking to some other reporter about the Denver Nuggets.

This would’ve been nearly ten years ago now so I can’t remember who it was, but at the end of the episode, Zach jokingly warned the reporter to drink enough water and watch out for themselves given the high altitude.

It was incredibly tongue-in-cheek as both recognized that their tasks in the altitude were hardly comparable to playing a full NBA game, something the road team had to do after touching down in Denver, Colorado after midnight.

Obviously, the altitude plays a part in home games for the Denver Nuggets as teams like to get to Colorado early, acclimate for at least a little while, and practice in the stadium before tip-off. This effect is once again benefitting the Nuggets as they have the easiest schedule in the entire league for the upcoming season according to Positive Residual.

The strength of schedule metric for Positive Residual is calculated based off every team’s Vegas-informed Estimate of Team Strength (VETS), the team’s rest advantage/disadvantage, a team’s expected wins, and the aforementioned altitude boost.

The only two teams with a ‘high’ altitude rating are the Nuggets and the Utah Jazz but given the direction the Jazz are heading, it doesn’t matter how thin the air is (they could probably play games in the Gravity Machine from Dragon Ball Z, it wouldn’t matter).

This article from Nylon Calculus in 2016 goes deep into the altitude boost for Denver and Utah and after using several models, one spit out the following:

"“Altitude is more important than the home team’s rest, and almost as important as a two-point per possession efficiency advantage between one team and another. Denver and Utah enjoy a 31 percent stronger than normal home court advantage, even after accounting for the strength of teams and their rest coming into the game.”"

But when it rains it pours. Combine that unfair home-court advantage with one of the stronger Denver Nuggets rosters ever assembled and it’s no wonder Denver is projected to have the cushiest schedule.

The VETS model believes that the Nuggets are the seventh-best team in the league (trailing the Phoenix Suns, LA Clippers, and Golden State Warriors in the West) and since a team obviously can’t play themselves, the pool of worthy opponents is greatly reduced for these teams.

On the rest side, Denver will have 11 games with a rest advantage and 11 with a rest disadvantage according to the data. A rest advantage is described as “a game in which one team is rested and the other is unrested”, with references to multiple bodies of work including John Schuhmann and Michael Lopez.

Denver Nuggets: How does their schedule advantage compare to other contenders?

With the knowledge that the Denver Nuggets have the easiest schedule in the league next season, which contenders in the Western Conference also compare?

The Minnesota Timberwolves are the closest competitor with the fourth-easiest schedule, Phoenix has the eighth, the Clippers tenth, and Golden State with 17th. The hardest schedule for a Western Conference team that should be a playoff lock are the Portland Trail Blazers with the tenth-hardest road ahead.

This isn’t a blanket stat however as the Denver Nuggets are heading into the following games with a clear rest disadvantage:

  • 21 Oct. 2022 @ Warriors – the second game of the season
  • 25 Nov. 2022 @ Clippers – third game in four nights
  • 2 Jan. 2022 @ Timberwolves – third game in four nights (plus an overnight flight from Boston after New Year’s Eve)
  • 31 Mar. 2022 @ Suns – back-to-back after a home game against the New Orleans Pelicans. This game could have significant seeding ramifications

But for the 11 games Denver is at a rest disadvantage, there are an equal number of rest advantage games including a relatively easy March and April before the playoffs.

Additionally, this is assuming we know every team that is good and isn’t. While a game might be easy to predict on opening night, the NBA season is long and there are always a few surprising teams that become relevant, throwing out some of these schedule projections.

At least Denver Nuggets fans can be confident they’re starting off at the top.

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