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Preview: La Tanqueta and The Bear, Round Two

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Excited for the Nuggets vs. the Grizzlies on TNT tonight? Marc Gasol sure is. And so is his counterpart, Jusuf Nurkic!

Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
Game 46: 2014-15 NBA Season

@

19-27 (7-15 away)
Series 1-0
33-12 (19-5 at home)
Jan. 29, 2014
FedEx Forum - Memphis, TN
6:00 PM MT
TNT / 104.3 FM

Ty Lawson
PG Mike Conley
Arron Afflalo
SG Tony Allen
Wilson Chandler
SF Jeff Green
Kenneth Faried
PF Zach Randolph
Jusuf Nurkic
C Marc Gasol
Notes
You're here!
Blogs Grizzly Bear Blues
JaVale McGee - Knee (questionable) Injuries
Mike Conley - wrist (questionable), Tony Allen - ankle (questionable

The Nuggets dished out a season-tying 30 assists last night against the Pelicans while recording a season low 8 turnovers. 
Etc ... The Grizlies acquired Jeff Green on January 2nd and have won 7 of 8 with him in the lineup.

The Denver Nuggets are looking to carry the momentum from last night's 93-85 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans into Memphis tonight where they will take on the Grizzlies.  This is a rare opportunity for the Nuggets to shine in front of a national audience as the game will be broadcast on TNT.  Both the Grizzlies and the Nuggets have reason to carry a chip on their shoulder about the lack of national TV coverage and tonight is a great opportunity for both mid-market teams to grab the spotlight. The matchup appears lopsided on paper but the Nuggets proved earlier this month that they can go toe-to-toe with tough, physical teams like Memphis when they pounded the Grizzlies in Denver, 114-85.

In their last meeting, the Grizzlies were coming off of a tough, grind it out win in Los Angeles the night before and were forced to make the 1,000 mile flight to play in Denver on the 2nd night of a back-to-back.  Tonight, the tables have turned and it is Denver who is forced to play on the road on the 2nd night of a back-to-back against a team that is well rested and hungry for revenge.

Signs of encouragement

There is no prize or reward for almost winning games but the Nuggets are just seven points away from a 4-game winning streak. The stories that stick out are poor execution and questionable late-game lineups, but if you step back and look at the direction the team is headed over the last week or so, there is plenty of room for optimism.  Much of the improvement can be attributed to the return of Danilo Gallinari. Despite playing limited minutes and battling injuries for large parts of the season, Gallo is 2nd on the team in NetRtg and 3rd in DefRtg.  Gallo provides the team with much needed playmaking on offense as well as versatility on the defensive end.

Another reason for optimism is the return of Jusuf Nurkic.  After struggling for a few games in the middle part of the month, Nurkic has strung together a couple of nice performances and even earned some rare 4th quarter minutes to help close out last night's game against the Pelicans.  He's received 28+ minutes in back-to-back games and it appears as though Shaw is beginning to loosen the leash on him just a bit.  Foul trouble continues to be an issue for Nurkic as he has picked up four or more fouls in seven of the last ten games.  In order to get a win tonight the Nuggets will need Nurkic to play big minutes and to avoid foul trouble against one of the premier post duos in the game.

The Tanker and the Bear

The highlight of the first matchup between these two teams was the head-to-head battle between the two big men down low.  Marc Gasol, known affectionately as La Tanqueta to his Spanish national team teammates, is widely considered one of the best centers in the league.  Nurkic, who Brian Shaw called the Bosnian Bear earlier in the season, is certainly one of the best up-and-coming centers in the league, despite his inexplicable, unacceptable, and inconceivable snubbing from the rookie-sophomore game. Their last matchup was less than a month ago and right in the middle of Nurkic's breakout six-game stretch where he averaged 19.7 points, 12.1 rebounds, 2.1 steals and 5 blocks per 36 minutes. Gasol got hit with peak Nurkic, falling on the receiving end of a few physical plays capped with the classic Smirkic stare-down.

Gasol likely went home and circled this rematch on the calendar.  Although the two shared hugs and mutual respect after the game, there is no question that Gasol will be anxious to get some revenge against the fearless rookie. Nurkic certainly hash't forgotten their previous matchup and even mentioned it, unprovokingly, in his post-game interview with Chris Marlow last night.  Get your popcorn ready, folks!  This promises to be a good one.

Under 100 points

The Nuggets continue to be successful when the game slows down.  It's a bit of a weird conundrum that a team with the 5th highest pace is actually better, or more accurately, more successful, when the game slows down.  In general, slowing the pace is a good strategy for bad teams.  Fewer possessions means a higher variance.  If the Nuggets played every team to 1000 points, the better team would win more frequently. If the Nuggets played every team to 90 points, there is a higher chance that the weaker team would get a lucky bounce here or there that would have a greater impact on the outcome.

This season, the Nuggets are 12-4 when they hold opponents to 100 points or fewer and 8-0 when holding opponents under 96 points.  The Grizzlies are a very formidable opponent but are prone to going cold.  They have scored fewer than 96 points 14 times this season and are 6-8 in those games.  Put another way, 8 of their 12 losses have come when they are held below 96 points.  The goal, it would seem, is to slow the pace down a bit more than usual and force Memphis to grind out half court offense.

Random but probably meaningless stat

Talking with my fellow stiffs at Stiff's Night Out last night, I get the feeling that people enjoyed the idea of late shot-clock eFg% that I presented in my Tuesday column. So here is a random stat along those same lines.  Last season, Deadspin wrote an article about the outliers in Points Per Possession on FGA with less than four seconds on the shot clock. Your usual great playmakers were on there like Lebron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Kevin Durant.  But one player stood out far from the rest: Courtney Lee.  Most people wouldn't have guessed that if given 50 guesses but surprisingly, Lee is a very good shot maker in those circumstances.  He has regressed back to the mean a bit this year in FGA with under four seconds but he still has a remarkable 70.1% eFg% in FGA with between 7-4 seconds on the clock.  So if he gets the ball late in the shot clock, hold your breath!

Prediction

Nurkiiiiic will become Charles Barkley's new Ginooooobili!  Nurkic is exactly the type of player guys like Chuck love and I highly doubt going in to tonight's game that Chuck even knows "who-he-play-for."  By halftime, I expect Chuck to be aboard the Nurkic bandwagon, just like the rest of us.