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Preview: Nuggets welcome the Grizzlies to the Pepsi Center

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The improving Denver Nuggets host the Memphis Grizzlies, winners of 5 of their last 6

Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

The Memphis Grizzlies come to town Thursday to take on the Denver Nuggets.  Denver has not been a kind host to Memphis, as the Grizzlies are just 3-26 in the Pepsi Center all-time, but most of those Denver teams played at a full-court pace that this one will not match.  Mike Conley has also returned to the lineup and looks to increase Memphis's margin of error with him running point.  The Grizzlies have won 5 of their last 6 but three of those wins were by 3 points or fewer.

The Nuggets should welcome Jusuf Nurkic back to the lineup after he missed some games with an ankle tweak and a sore knee - the same one he had surgically repaired in the offseason.  If healthy, however, that would leave the Nuggets only short-handed at point guard, with Jameer Nelson still recovering from a sprained wrist.  Denver will need more scoring help than in the last meeting with Memphis: Danilo Gallinari scored 29 but the Nuggets had just two other players in double figures as the Nuggets fell 91-84.  The Vegas line is Memphis at -1.5 though, so despite the record difference it's expected to be a closer game in Denver than in Memphis.

The Basics

Who: Memphis Grizzlies (24-19) at Denver Nuggets (16-26)

When: 7 PM MST

Where: Pepsi Center, Denver CO

How to Watch: Altitude

Rival Blog: Grizzly Bear Blues

Memphis Grizzlies Denver Nuggets Advantage
PG Mike Conley Emmanuel Mudiay Grizzlies
SG Tony Allen Gary Harris Even
SF Courtney Lee Danilo Gallinari Nuggets
PF Zach Randolph Kenneth Faried Grizzlies
C Marc Gasol Nikola Jokic Grizzlies
Bench

Jeff GreenJaMychal Green,Vince Carter, Mario Chalmers, Matt Barnes

Will Barton, Jusuf Nurkic, Randy FoyeJoffrey LauvergneMike Miller, Darrell Arthur Even

Injured Players: Wilson Chandler - Out (hip), Jameer Nelson - Questionable (wrist), Jarell Martin - Out (foot), Brandan Wright - Out (knee)

Offensive-minded matters. The Grizzlies hold opponents to 98.6 points per game, 6th-best in the league.  The Nuggets have trouble winning when they score under 100 points (two victories all year).  Gallo proved he can score against the Grizzlies, but if he's the only one the Nuggets are not going to win.  Conley is still working himself into game shape for the Grizzlies after his Achilles injury, which means the combination of Mudiay and Harris should be able to swarm him at both ends.  Tony Allen may be a defensive genius but he can still only guard one of our players (I hope).

Breaking through the Memphis defense is going to take persistence and attention to detail, because that crew has their method of breaking wills down pat.  If the Nuggets stay on the perimeter for this game, however, they'll lose. Slipping past Conley and Allen and splitting the twin monsters of Gasol and Randolph will have to do the trick.  Hopefully the team takes its cue from Gallinari, who earned 11 of the team's 19 trips to the line last time.  Attack the lane, draw fouls, and sink free throws - otherwise it could be a long night.

The battle of the boards is key. Denver still has not won a game in which they have been out-rebounded (0-13).  Randolph has always been a handful for Faried, being too long and too good a shooter for Kenneth to properly handle defensively - and strong as an ox with great fundamentals to boot.  The Nuggets showed their weak interior underbelly to the big men of the Oklahoma City Thunder, and Memphis's big men are at least as dangerous.  Nurkic will not play 30 minutes, or likely even 20, so for the majority of the game the same players who failed to stop the offensive rebounding of the Thunder will have to hold Gasol and Randolph at bay without their strongest player to help.  Hopefully getting embarrassed by OKC in the paint will put that fighting spirit into Denver's big men for this game.

Nurkic vs. Gasol. He may not play a lot, but a great heavyweight bout isn't determined by duration.  Jusuf Nurkic is cleared to play in this game, and in fact was cleared to play against the Thunder but Michael Malone didn't want to put him on the floor with no practice time. It hurt Denver's interior defense severely, as Enes Kanter put up 25 points and 8 rebounds in Jusuf's absence. Nurkic will be needed in this game for at least a stretch to help stop the interior assault of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph.  Denver's Bosnian Beast grabbed some headlines with his face-offs against Gasol in Nurkic's rookie season, and I expect that beef to continue.  Both big men play hard and don't back down from anything. Jokic and Lauvergne simply don't have the size and strength to anchor inside the way that Nurkic does, so keep your fingers crossed for the matchup of true centers we all want to see.

And if you need a refresher, the good Nurkic / Gasol faceoff is around 3:40 of this video.  Enjoy - and note how much leaner Nurkic looks this year.  Doesn't seem to have affected his strength in the paint in any way, though, which bodes well.

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REMINDER: STIFFS NIGHT OUT WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 3RD
Join us at Jake's Sports & Spirits (3800 Walnut Street, Denver, CO 80205) as our Nuggets take on the Jazz in Utah at 7pm. 
Attendees can win Denver Stiffs T-shirts and Nuggets tickets and Jake's will be serving 50-cent wings for us all night long. 
We hope to see you there!

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