Any sports team that plays in Colorado has a rather unique advantage over most of their opponents, as the high altitude makes it notoriously difficult for athletes to adjust. Some, like former Pittsburgh Steelers safety Ryan Clark, can’t even play at all for medical reasons.
In addition to playing at a high altitude, the Denver Nuggets also enjoy an advantage of playing in a time zone that only one other team (the Utah Jazz) share. The combination of the two can make it quite difficult to play in the Pepsi Center, especially when the Nuggets are the second of a back-to-back night out west.
Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post broke down exactly what the disadvantage could be for a visiting team when coming to Denver:
A typical travel sequence can look like this: Team X plays at the Los Angeles Lakers on a Friday night. That game, a 7 p.m. local start, ends between 9:15 and 9:30. Showers. Interviews. Bus to plane. All of that takes two more hours.
So, if you’re lucky, that plane takes off around midnight or soon thereafter. Then it’s two hours, 15 minutes to Denver. You lose an hour. So it’s after 3 a.m. when you land at Denver’s airport. Another 40 minutes to get the bus to the downtown hotel, and players’ heads are hitting pillows around 4 a.m.
The game against the Nuggets is that night. Throw in altitude and a running Nuggets team … and you can see why opponents would want it eradicated.
Without a doubt, in those scenarios, the Nuggets have a home-court advantage that goes beyond the fans in the arena cheering them on. According to Dempsey, the NBA is not only aware of that advantage, but also taking steps to reduce the problem in two ways:
1) Ensuring Denver is the first stop on a Western back-to-back.
2) Putting an extra day off for the visiting team in between those two games.
You could certainly make the argument that playing through elements like that is just part of the deal in professional sports, but when an advantage is so unique to only one of 30 NBA teams, you can see why the league would want to reduce it as much as they can.
As for Nuggets coach Michael Malone, who formerly coached in Sacramento, he knows both sides of the coin. And while he sympathizes with the rest of the league, he certainly has changed his tune since taking over as head coach of the Nuggets this season, as he told Dempsey:
“I didn’t like it when I had to come here, but I love it now.”
(Via The Denver Post)