Nuggets vs. Rockets preview: Houston, we have several problems

Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets limp into Houston on a five-game road losing streak and yet another injury to an important player.

Game 77: 2013-14 NBA Season

@ Houston Rockets (1996 - 2003)
33-43 (13-25 away)
Series 0-1
50-25 (30-8 home)
April 6th, 2014
Toyota Center - Houston, TX
5:00 PM MT
Altitude 2 / 950 AM

Aaron Brooks
PG Jeremy Lin
Randy Foye
SG James Harden
Quincy Miller
SF Chandler Parsons
Kenneth Faried
PF Terrence Jones
Timofey Mozgov
C Omer Asik
Notes
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Danilo Gallinari (knee), JaVale McGee (leg fracture), Nate Robinson (ACL sprain), JJ Hickson (ACL), Wilson Chandler (Groin) are out, Ty Lawson (ankle) is questionable Injuries Patrick Beverley (knee), Greg Smith (knee) are out; Dwight Howard (ankle) is questionable

Denver's five-game road losing streak is the longest since they lost six straight in December of 2009.

Stat

The Rockets have won 13 of their last 14 home games.

The Nuggets just can't catch a break this season, can they? Unless of course we're talking about a rib or a leg. The injury-cursed team suffered another setback when Ty Lawson sprained his ankle in the loss to the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday night. With nothing left to play for this late in the season, I am guessing we might have seen the last of Lawson this year.

Lawson's absence means the Nuggets are now officially down six rotation players, as he joins Danilo Gallinari, Nate Robinson, J.J. Hickson, Wilson Chandler, and Javale McGee on the sidelines. With that many key players missing, the only concern at this point should be developing players. I would like to see Quincy Miller, Evan Fournier, and Jan Vesely get some serious burn in these last few games. It's important for the team to get an idea of what these guys can bring to the table.

Nuggets head coach Brian Shaw has received some criticism this season for playing his veterans too much in order to win as many games as possible at the expense of developing some of the younger players on the team. I don't necessarily blame him, as the entire goal of the season was to try to make the playoffs. However, once it became apparent that it just wasn't going to happen this year, Shaw still gave guys like Hickson and Randy Foye big minutes. It might have been more beneficial to the team's future to play the younger guys more to determine if they were going to be part of the team's future going forward.

There is still some time left to make evaluations. With all the injuries, Shaw really has no choice but to play the few healthy players remaining. The end of the season for the Nuggets features tough competition that will still be jockeying for playoff position, and it would bode well for Denver if their young guys can lead the way to an unexpected victory or two.

It's not going to be easy, though, starting tonight in Houston. The Rockets have been among the top teams in the West all season. The addition of Dwight Howard and the ascension of Chandler Parsons has really helped the team out. I am not the biggest James Harden fan, but there is no doubt he is one of the better shooting guards in the league. And former phenom Jeremy Lin has bounced back after a difficult first year in Houston.

It will be interesting to see how the team responds to Lawson's injury. Some of the Nuggets are playing for their future in the league, so I don't expect them to roll over and play out the string. They should play hard, like they did against Memphis. If the talent disparity is too much to overcome, so be it. I'll be content as long as they compete.

Game Predictions -

- I've always thought Harden was a bit of an inefficient chucker who relied on free throws to garnish his points-per-game average. I don't think that perception is entirely wrong, but Harden is shooting 46% from the field and 37% from three-point range. He's been scoring a lot lately, so I could see him going for 30+ tonight.

- I know not everyone around here is keen on Aaron Brooks, but I really think he's been a huge help to the Nuggets since he came over at the trade deadline, especially with Lawson's injury-filled second half of the season. I think he has at least given the front office a reason to consider keeping him around. I still like Nate Robinson as the backup guard, but Brooks' play has at least put him in the running for the job next year. I think he'll be a little peeved at his former team and put forth a strong effort with 20+ points and 10 assists.

- Speaking of former players, ex-Nugget Jordan Hamilton hasn't exactly exploded since arriving in Houston. Still, I think Houston coach Kevin McHale will play him some more minutes against his former team and I could see him having an impact.

- This will be the worst-rated Nuggets game of the season, due to Colorado Avalanche playing at the same time as well as the Game of Thrones season premiere.

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