Nuggets vs. Pacers preview: Ty Lawson injury leaves Brian Shaw, Nuggets searching for answers

Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

The injury-plagued Denver Nuggets head to Indianapolis to face one of the league's best teams in the Indiana Pacers, who will be looking to avenge a loss two weeks ago in Denver.

Game 50: 2013-14 NBA Season
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Indiana Pacers (2006 - Pres)

24-25 (10-14 on road)

Series 1-0 Nuggets

39-11 (24-2 at home)
February 8th, 2014
Bankers Life Fieldhouse - Indianapolis, IN
5:30 PM MT
Altitude / 950 AM

Randy Foye
PG George Hill
Evan Fournier
SG Lance Stephenson
Wilson Chandler SF Paul George
Kenneth Faried PF David West
J.J. Hickson C Roy Hibbert
Notes
Denver Stiffs Blogs Indy Cornrows
Ty Lawson (ribs) is out, JaVale McGee (leg fracture) is out, and Danilo Gallinari (ACL) and Nate Robinson(ACL) are out for the season. Injuries No injuries
Kenneth Faried is now the only player in the starting lineup who also started last season. Stat The Pacers are a league-best 24-2 at home this season.

Two weeks ago, the Denver Nuggets secured what may have been their most impressive win of the season, a 109-96 victory over the visiting Indiana Pacers who were sporting the best record in the league. They followed it up a night later with a road win over the Sacramento Kings, with Ty Lawson's 27 points leading the team. Lawson was hurt against the Kings and missed the next two games, uninspiring home losses to the Charlotte Bobcats and Toronto Raptors. He made his return in the most exciting game of the year, the 117-116 nail-biter over the Los Angeles Clippers that featured Randy Foye's magnificent game-winner.

Now, Lawson is out again, and it looks like it's going to be a longer road to recovery. Lawson suffered a fractured rib when he landed awkwardly after a spin move against the Detroit Pistons on Saturday night. About the only thing to take solace in with regards to yet another injury to a key player is the fact that it comes two games before the All-Star break, giving Lawson a little bit more time to heal without missing as many games.

It's difficult to estimate how much time Lawson will miss; the Canadian snowboarder Mark McMorris fractured his rib at the Winter X Games in Aspen and still competed in the Winter Olympics in Sochi two weeks later, winning the bronze medal in Men's Snowboard Slopestyle. It's difficult to compare the two sports, but both feature plenty of impact. Basketball is probably the more physically demanding of the two, and the Olympics are much more important than a regular season NBA game, so I wouldn't be surprised if the team kept Lawson out longer. If the team continues to slide in the standings, they'll be even more cautious.

And unfortunately, it's not unreasonable to assume that's what could happen. Lawson is in the unique position of being the team's best player playing the most important position. While the Nuggets could reasonably withstand the losses of Danilo Gallinari and Javale McGee, there is no replacing Ty. Foye now has the the unenviable task of trying to kick-start the Nuggets' offense while playing out of position.

This contest against the Indiana Pacers does not bode well for the Nuggets. The Pacers will certainly be seeking revenge for that late January loss to Denver. They'll also be eager to avenge a bad loss in Orlando yesterday, where they lost 93-92 to one of the worst teams in the league after holding a 10-point lead going into the fourth quarter. I think Wilson Chandler can match up well against Paul George, but J.J. Hickson and Kenneth Faried will have their hands full with Roy Hibbert and David West respectively. Also, the Nuggets have had their struggles in Indianapolis before.

No doubt the injuries, especially this latest one to Lawson, have decimated this team and their collective confidence. Head coach Brian Shaw admitted as much after the game against the Pistons, saying "it (took) the wind out of us when Ty came out of the game." The Nuggets were already scuffling defensively before Lawson went down, and now it's possible the offense could take a hit as well. Denver still has lots of pride and wants to make a playoff push, but at this point the injuries might simply be too much to overcome.

Game Predictions -

- One bright spot of the Nuggets' injury-plagued season so far has been the development of Evan Fournier and Quincy Miller. Both players seem to be getting better as the season progresses. They should each receive a healthy dose of minutes tomorrow, and I predict there will be 30 points between the two of them.

- Jordan Hamilton seemed to play his way out of Shaw's rotation, but with so many players hurt he should see some floor time. Look for him to play hard as he attempts to make a case for more minutes when players get healthy.

- Timofey Mozgov has been a huge disappointment of late, but this is a chance for him to showcase himself against one of the better defenders in the league in Roy Hibbert. The Nuggets will need his offense in the post to offset their reliance on Foye and Chandler hitting jump shots, so I am duplicating my prediction from the last game and saying Mozzy ends his slump here with a double-double.

- The Nuggets' starting front-court is incredibly inept on defense. David West and Roy Hibbert are going to eviscerate them with a combined 40 points and 25 rebounds, at least.

- Anthony Randolph came in and actually provided a spark in the Nuggets' comeback bid against the Pistons, and should receive some minutes in this game. I say he hits at least two three-pointers.

- Foye will lead the Nuggets in scoring and assists, and the Nuggets will play hard and stay in the game for as long as they can, but ultimately they lose this one 112-98. I just can't see them being able to defeat Indiana on the road without Lawson.

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