Last night, former Brooklyn Nets part-owner Jay-Z threw down at the Pepsi Center. Tonight, the Denver Nuggets hope to return the favor by putting on their own show at Hov's old stomping grounds, the Barclays Center.
The Nugs are on a roll right now and it's due in large part to their bench, led by dynamic referee target Nate Robinson. Against the Raptors, the Nuggets bench poured in an astounding 72 points. According to Elias, that's the second-most bench points they've scored in the last 14 seasons. The only time non-starters have scored more in that span was the 74 they put up in the infamous 168-116 pasting they laid on a young Kevin Durant and the Seattle SuperSonics. Here's the box score from that game; the numbers are eye-popping to say the least.
Robinson was the catalyst for the Nuggets in the fourth quarter against the Raptors, scoring 18 of his 23 points. He may go into iso-ball and launch ill-advised shots from time to time, but there's no denying his ability to erupt. The Nuggets haven't had this explosive of a bench player since, well, this guy. Timofey Mozgov had another strong game, with 16 points, 15 rebounds, and one absolute demolition of Rudy Gay. The big guy has shown flashes of what he is capable of this season, and Brian Shaw rewarded him with late game minutes in Toronto.
On the other side of the spectrum is the Brooklyn Nets. Expected to be amongst the contenders, the Nets instead find themselves floating in the rest of the flotsam comprising the Eastern Conference. Some of it can certainly be pinned on injuries, as Deron Williams, Andrei Kirilenko, and Brook Lopez have all missed significant time. As if that wasn't enough, now Paul Pierce will be sidelined 2-4 weeks with a fractured bone in his shooting hand.
However, declining performances from their highly-paid aging players has also contributed to the underachieving start to the season. Before he was hurt, Pierce was shooting a career-worst 37% from the field. Notorious dog-imitator Kevin Garnett has played like one so far, averaging a career-low 6.8 points. Joe Johnson has been decent, but his outrageous salary makes it literally impossible for him to produce anything close to commensurate. Also, rookie head coach Jason Kidd has looked over-matched at times, no more so than during the recent Sodagate. The league didn't take kindly to those shenanigans, turning that spilled drink into the most expensive soda Kidd will ever have with a $50,000 fine.
Shaw weathered his team's early-season struggles, and now the squad is playing with a ton of confidence. Moving above .500 on the road would be another huge step. To borrow a phrase from Nuggets broadcaster Chris Marlowe, Denver hasn't had a winning road record since Hector was a pup. They know that if they want to win in the playoffs, they'll have to be able to win in hostile environments.
The Nuggets were down big early against the Raptors, something they've generally avoided during this winning streak. I would look for the Nuggets to come out of the gate a little stronger this evening and not allow the Nets a modicum of hope. Taking care of business in the away games against beatable teams, like these Nets are right now, will help instill that road warrior mentality that the Nuggets haven't had in a long time. And the way the season is shaking out so far, that could mean the difference in making the playoffs in the tough-as-ever Western Conference.
Game Predictions -
- Brook Lopez has been Brooklyn's best scorer, averaging 20 ppg in the 10 games he has played. He'll get his points but will have less than 10 rebounds. Not exactly a stretch, as he's yet to do so this season.
- Kenneth Faried took a spill on an alley-oop from Wilson Chandler in the last game, and might not play as many minutes tonight. Still, I'm guessing he has enough in the tank to notch his 9th double-double of the year.
- The Nuggets free-throw shooting hasn't been quite as abysmal as of late, and they'll continue to improve. My boldest prediction: They crack the 80% mark from the line as a team tonight.
- Ty Lawson will take advantage of Williams' absence by leading the Nuggets in scoring and dishing at least 11 assists.
- J.J. Hickson will have at least one monster dunk.
- Mozgov, in an effort to impress Nets owner and fellow Russian Mikhail Prokhorov, will wrestle a bear at halftime.
- Denver might not win going away, but they'll at least cover the -4.5 points. Final score: Nuggets 106, Nets 97.