This is a big game for the Denver Nuggets.
The Nuggets have faced several of the top teams in the NBA over the first month of the season. They have faced off with Utah, Boston, Cleveland, the Lakers twice, New Orleans and now the Houston Rockets. Heading into tonight’s game Denver is only 1-5 against the elite teams in the NBA. Things may not be that bad though as they lost two of those games before Chauncey Billups came back to Denver. A loss to the Rockets tonight would put another notch in the loss column against the best of the NBA and make it more difficult to make a case that the Nuggets have a shot at earning home court advantage in the playoffs.
The Rockets are coming off a blow out win against the now healthy San Antonio Spurs in Houston last night. They are playing without Tracy McGrady, but the addition of Ron Artest has helped make up for his absence. McGrady has missed the last two games and Artest has lead the team in shot attempts both of those two games.
The downside of Artest’s presence is it has somewhat marginalized Yao Ming. Yao is posting numbers comparable to his third season in the league, which was 2004-05. Compared to his career year of 2006-07, when he averaged over 25 points a game, he is playing a tad more, but is getting almost five fewer shot attempts a game. Yao is one of the handful of players around the league who the Nuggets have a very difficult time containing. The more the Rockets marginalize him the better it is for the Nuggets.
When the Nuggets have the ball it will be interesting to see how the Rockets defend Melo. They have two defenders who are capable of frustrating Melo one on one in Artest and Shane Battier. If they choose to defend Carmelo one on one, Melo must win his matchup. That does not mean scoring 30 points, but that means beating Artest or Battier off the dribble forcing the Rockets to help and open up the floor for his teammates.
Defensively the Rockets have been very good traditionally at forcing you to play defense for 15 or 20 seconds of every possession. They become more of a one on one team with Artest, but they will still dump the ball into Yao, force a double team and see how well your defense rotates.
One player the Nuggets will have to be ready for coming off the bench is Aaron Brooks. He will remind Nuggets fans of Earl Boykins thanks to his shoot first mentality and diminutive size. He is listed as a 6’ 0” point guard, which is probably a couple of inches off of his actual height, but he so far on the season he has captured more rebounds than assists.
The Nuggets have won two straight against the Rockets at the Pepsi Center, but in the past Houston has had little trouble winning in Denver. The Nuggets are going to have to play defense for more than a quarter or quarter and a half in order to win because the Rockets will defend for four quarters and they play at a very slow pace. Earlier in the season the Nuggets were winning games like that, let’s hope they can do it again tonight.