The Denver Nuggets kickoff the post-season on Saturday, April 20th, at the Pepsi Center at 3:30 p.m. MT against the Golden State Warriors. It has been awhile since the two teams have faced each other - with the last of the four games coming on January 13th -- where the Nuggets won 116-105 (in Denver).
The Nuggets won the season series 3-1. Four players that will have a significant impact on this series did not really play a lot during the four regular season games. Wilson Chandler played in one of the four games (Jan. 13th) and put up 14 points, 6 rebounds, 3 steals, and had 3 turnovers in 21 minutes. Chandler figures to log heavy minutes in place of injured Danilo Gallinari and would have seen heavy minutes anyway. Richard Jefferson played in just one game against the Nuggets and put up 2 points in 23 minutes.
Evan Fournier and Andrew Bogut both will be factors in this series and neither team has seen them or much of them. Bogut did not play in any of the four games against the Nuggets this season. Fournier played just one-minute on Jan. 13th and put up zero stats and that was his only appearance in the four-games.
Now, let's take a look at how the key contributors for the Warriors have fared against the Nuggets this season.
Stephen Curry, PG, played in all four games vs. Denver: 18.5 points per game, 5.8 assists per game, and 2 steals
In the game on Nov. 23rd (in Denver), Curry had a horrific night where he shot just 2-5 for 6 points and 3 assists in 26 minutes. That night it was Ty Lawson doing most of the work guarding Curry. He did bounce back on Jan. 13th and score a season high against Denver for 29 points on 11-18 shooting, including 7-9 from deep (in a losing effort).
He's such a special shooter. I expect the Nuggets to try to confuse Curry with different defensive looks and like Lawson said, Denver may try to chase Curry from taking outside shots and force him to areas on the floor he's not comfortable with. Best of luck with that. Curry has had success for a reason and he'll have success against the Nuggets, too. It's more of a matter of trying to limit him than shut him down, but George Karl will have his hands full trying to figure out the best ways to defend the talented guard.
Klay Thompson, SG, played in all four games vs. Denver: 18.3 ppg, 5.3 rebs, 2.5 assists
Thompson, unlike Curry, put up better numbers against the Nuggets than he did during the regular season. Just 23 years-old, Thompson can become a bit rattled at times and can be a streaky shooter -- he shot just 42-percent against the Nuggets. He's best in a catch-and-shoot, but can get inside when he must.
Harrison Barnes, SF, rookie, played in all four games vs. Denver: 8.5 points, 3.8 rebounds
Just 20 years-old, Barnes can be a highlight reel guy (check out this dunk) or can disappear in games. The Nuggets might be able to get away with putting Evan Fournier on Barnes and seeing how that goes. Not to say Fournier is a bad defender -- because he has been very good -- or even smaller than Barnes, but allowing Iguodala to be on the higher scoring Thompson or Curry would be nice.
David Lee, PF, played in all four games vs. Denver: 23.3 pts, 10.3 rebs, 5 assists, 2.3 steals
If you want to know why the Warriors hung with the Nuggets this season -- Lee, 29 years-old, is the reason. The guy nearly averaged a triple-double! He can do a bit of it all on offense, said for hit three-pointers. If Kenneth Faried isn't able to go, it'll be interesting to see how Karl chooses to defend Lee. Chandler will see significant time on Lee, regardless of Faried's availability, and it'll be up to him to slow down the sweet shooting lefty.
Jarrett Jack, PG, played in all four games vs. Denver: 13.3 pts, 5.5 assists, 3.5 rebs
Stealing a page from Karl's book, Warriors coach Mark Jackson likes to play Jack in crunch-time alongside Curry ... a two point guard lineup! Jack running the show has been nothing short of awesome for the Golden State crew. He's a versatile guard that likes to look for his own shot, but is a capable passer. Originally drafted by the Nuggets, in 2005, he was traded on draft day for Linas Kleiza (Blazers). The 29 year-old bring a calming presence to the team and takes the pressure off the young guys.
Carl Landry, PF, played in all four games vs. Denver: 13 pts, 6.5 rebs, 2.8 assists
Landry is 29 years-old and is playing for his fourth franchise. I love this guy's game. He can rebound, shoot, play the post, defend, and run the floor. He's sort of a model for Faried to follow as he's also an undersized power player listed at 6'9''. He gives every team he plays against headaches and is totally under-appreciated around the league. The Nuggets must pay close attention to him as he'll sneak around the baseline for easy buckets and hit the glass. He'd be a perfect Nuggets player, but I'm sure many will grow to despise him during this series for being a thorn in Denver's side.
Festus Ezeli, C, rookie, played in all four games vs. Denver: 0.5 points, 5.3 rebs, 1.5 blocks
Even with Ezeli, 23 years-old, playing better down the stretch, he only averaged 3.6 points per game in April and his high during the month was 8 points. He shouldn't hurt Denver with his scoring, but he can keep possessions alive with his rebounding and he's proven to be a decent shot blocker -- he'll be tested mightily in those areas against the Nuggets.
I believe these will be the main rotation guys used by Mark Jackson -- we'll see if Kent Bazemore, Andris Biedrins, or rookie Draymond Green get any playing time, if they do it shouldn't be a whole lot. So, with Bogut and Jefferson added to the seven above, that's a nine-man rotation. Jefferson should see spot minutes as well, giving the Warriors a solid eight.
Series predictions from the Denver Stiffs Crew
In late December - while the Nuggets were struggling through a tough early season road schedule - I wrote fondly of the Warriors and their ability to gut out tough road wins despite having a young, inexperienced team. Much has changed since then. While the Nuggets ascended quickly up the Western Conference ladder and became a force to be reckoned with, the Warriors fell to the near-bottom of the conference's playoff pack and then admirably hung on to claim just their second playoff appearance in 19 years. Despite heading in different directions after the New Year, the Warriors won't be an easy first round opponent - just an "easier" out than the Clippers or Grizzlies would have been. Yes, we need to be concerned - make that very concerned - about Stephen Curry (the rich man's Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf), but the Nuggets should win this series handily. Playoff series are won with defense and coaching, and the Nuggets have huge advantages in both areas. The Warriors will win Game 3 backed by an exciting Oakland crowd, but that will be the only game they win. Nuggets in 5.
Simply put, I don't expect this series to stretch more than five games. The Nuggets have one thing that the Golden State Warriors don't have, and that is Andre Iguodala. The ability for Iggy to cover wing players and guards (specifically Steph Curry) will free the Nuggets up to put Ty Lawson on another non-essential player and not wear himself out guarding Curry all the time. Additionally, the X-factor, Evan Fournier may prove to be a bit of a problem for the Warriors with his driving ability. I expect the Nuggets to close this out in 5.
Denver has too many weapons to throw at Golden State, which is almost entirely reliant on Curry and Thompson draining three-pointers. With the best perimeter defender in the Western Conference in Andre Iguodala to stick on Curry (as needed) and a team that plays even faster than the Warriors' pace, the Nuggets can shut down Golden State's best player while simultaneously leaving Ty Lawson to feast on the lack of shot blocking. The Warriors have NO match-up for JaVale McGee, and will struggle to defend the Nuggets in the paint without fouling. I expect a few close games, but the Nuggets will hold serve at home, take one in Oracle, and finish them off in the Pepsi Center. I think the Nuggets are going to win in 5 games.
I spent a full day talking to great basketball minds. I heard predictions of five games, six games, and seven games -- all in favor of the Nuggets. I remember the years the 40+ win Nuggets teams entered the playoffs and I looked for reasons as to why Denver would win the series ... make the great upset. It's rare you see upsets in the NBA. Denver won 57 games this season for a reason and the Warriors won 47 games for a reason. Fine seasons for both franchises, but not good enough for the Warriors to pull off the upset. I thought I was going to pick Denver in seven games, but I just don't see the Nuggets surrendering a game at home and I think they'll steal, at least, one in Oracle. I see Ty Lawson carrying the Nuggets, David Lee scaring the Nuggets, and points galore from everyone in-between. Give me Nuggets in 5 games.
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