Nuggets Nation has been anxiously awaiting the arrival of J.R. Smith (or Earl as he now wants to be called) for the 2009-10 season ... well, the wait is over. Smith will see his first action tonight in Chicago after serving his seven-game suspension to start the season. Smith's return couldn't come at a better time, as he'll provide Denver with some fresh legs off the bench.
Last season Denver went into Chicago, faced a depleted Bulls team (their major trade deadline deal kept their new additions out of uniform) with only eight active players, and lost 116-99. In fact, the Bulls starting five that night (Luol Deng, , , Ben Gordan and Derrick Rose) outscored the entire Nuggets team 103-99.
But that was last season and I don't really correlate past success being all of too relevant in professional sports with the ever changing landscape and all.
Also, who here is sick of me doing all the previews and recaps? Maybe someone should start a "We want Andrew back" FanPost! Ha ha joking, but seriously ... he'll be back as usual very soon - so you wont have to keep putting up with just my view!
Let's break this game down!
Chicago: 4-2 (key wins: vs. San Antonio, at Cleveland)
Denver: Kenyon Martin - probable (left fibula contusion)
Chicago: (left fibula fracture), (right Achilles) and Tyrus Thomas (left radius fracture) are all out tonight.
Point Guard: Chauncey Billups vs. Derrick Rose
This is going to be a tough matchup for Billups as the one thing an aging point guard has issues with are the young quick guys coming into their own. The 21-year-old Rose is lightening quick and Billups will have a tough time staying in front of him. Rose's minutes are down quite a bit from his averages last season (roughly from 37 mpg to 30 mpg this season), but when he's on the floor he will cause Denver problems if he's driving the ball and getting out in transition. On the flip side ... Billups is a strong guard who will take advantage of every weakness in Rose's game. The way the two are playing right now ... advantage even.
Shooting Guard: Joey Graham/Arron Afflalo vs. John Salmons
Our first big question mark ... who will Karl start tonight and how much will they play? Salmons is a scorer and has great size for the shooting guard spot, but his game has been off this season as he's only shooting 34% from the field and averaging 13.8 points per game (down from 18.3 ppg last season). Graham and Afflalo both matchup well with Salmons if they stay committed on the defensive end and Afflalo has been stepping up his offensive game now that he's growing more comfortable in the Denver offense. Karl stated in the Denver Post that he wants to get Smith minutes "in the low 20s" tonight so I'll be interested to see how much burn Graham and Double-A get. Advantage: Even.
Small Forward: Carmelo Anthony vs. Luol Deng
The injury plagued Deng, who only appeared in 49 games last season, is having a nice bounce-back season averaging 16.7 points and 10 rebounds in roughly 37 minutes per game. Deng leads the low-scoring (88.5 ppg) Bulls in ... scoring, but he'll have his work cut out for him tonight with Melo. Anthony is capable of dominating this matchup on the offensive end if he plays the right way. In Denver's first three games Melo averaged 4.3 assists and since this roadtrip has begun he has averaged 2 assists in the last four games (pretty funny when you consider he scored more points in Denver's first three games than the last four). I know assists are not really the most accurate way to judge if a guy is playing unselfish basketball (since one guy decides what is an assist), but Melo needs to trust his teammates to make plays and let the offense come to him. I barely realized in the first two games that Melo was looking for his shot and he needs to get back to playing more team basketball. Advantage: Nuggets.
Power Forward: Kenyon Martin vs. Taj Gibson
The rookie out of USC (26th overall pick) will again be starting in place of injured Tyrus Thomas. Gibson scored a career-high 11 points on 5-12 shooting in Cleveland on November 5th, but this will be a tough matchup for him. I don't know much else about the kid, but playing against a fired up K-Mart is not going to be very much fun. Here is what Martin said in the Denver Post today.
"I'm going to play, man — no matter how I feel," said Martin, who sustained a left leg bruise on Friday in Miami. "We lost two games in a row. Bottom line, we've got to stop the bleeding. I think my presence on the court will go a long way."
Martin has an excellent way of making his presence known, ask any NBA rim or
. Advantage: Nuggets.
Center: Nene vs. Joakim Noah
Both of these guys are capable of making incredible faces after they feel a bad call went against them or if they don't get a call they feel they deserved. Seriously though, both guys are undersized centers who rely on different aspects of their game to get by. Noah is a ferocious rebounder and ultimate hustle guy. Nene is a talented offensive player who thrives off playing above the rim. The emotions inside the game can get the better of each guy and whomever can control their game will win this battle. Advantage: Even.
Right off the bat ... Karl has not settled on a certain rotation as of yet and that's basically because Smith has been out and K-Mart suffered an early injury. however, basically has been using a seven-man rotation with just Miller and Hinrich logging major minutes of the bench. Both Bulls bench guys are veterans who know their roles with the team. Hinrich could start for a lot of teams in the league and is a very nice asset off the bench. (To be honest ... I'd like to see some Lawson vs. Rose and Hinrich vs. Billups in this one.) The Nuggets though have a deeper unit and get a big shot in the arm with the return of #5 ... yes, Earl Smith. If Smith can shake off the rust early he will log big minutes and could prove to be the lift this team needs along with K-Mart's return. I like what Denver's bench brings tonight and think they can be the difference. Advantage: Nuggets.
Photo Courtesy: AP Photos David Zalubowski
(link in the story to the Denver Post article sourced: http://www.denverpost.com/nuggets/ci_13751049, http://www.denverpost.com/nuggets/ci_13754906)