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Preview: Nuggets begin season in New Orleans

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It’s game 1. Let’s start things off right Nuggets Nation.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Denver Nuggets Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

We did it Denver Nuggets fans. After a long offseason that began with a shirtless J.R. Smith, dabbled in Dwyane Wade, and brought the earth to a stop in Golden State, the Denver Nuggets play their first contest of the season against an opponent with a legitimate star on Wednesday night.

The Nuggets finished last season with a 33-49 record, while the New Orleans Pelicans came in at 30-52. While Denver came in with low expectations, which they exceeded, New Orleans was expected to build upon their success the previous year. In 2014-15, they appeared as an eight seed in the Western Conference. While they were ousted handily by the Golden State Warriors, Anthony Davis played incredibly well, and the consensus was that the Pelicans were on the rise.

Well, so much for that. Injury issues and poor team defense crippled the Pelicans throughout the year, and they crashed back down to earth. Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson are now gone, Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans are out for the foreseeable future, and the team has over $82 million committed to Solomon Hill and Omer Asik the next four seasons. They drafted Buddy Hield, and he has been a bright spot, but most fans believe the Pelicans will remain out of the playoff picture this season.

This means the Nuggets must get off to a good start this year. To be taken seriously, the Nuggets need to make a great first impression. Opening tip-off will certainly make an impression when the Nuggets start three players 6’10 and above, but a win is what truly matters. The first 48 minutes of the season mean a lot in the eyes of NBA fans, and I’m looking forward to the impression the Nuggets make.

The Basics

Who: Denver Nuggets (0-0) at New Orleans Pelicans (0-0)

When: Wednesday, October 28th at 6:00 MST

Where: Smoothie King Center, New Orleans, LA

How to watch/listen: Altitude, AM 950

Rival Blog: The Bird Writes

Position Denver New Orleans Advantage
PG Emmanuel Mudiay Tim Frazier Nuggets
SG Will Barton E'Twaun Moore Nuggets
SF Danilo Gallinari Solomon Hill Nuggets
PF Nikola Jokic Anthony Davis Pelicans
C Jusuf Nurkic Omer Asik Nuggets
Bench Jameer Nelson, Jamal Murray, Wilson Chandler, Juancho Hernangomez, Kenneth Faried Langston Galloway, Buddy Hield, Lance Stephenson, Terrence Jones, Alexis Ajinca Nuggets

Injuries: Emmanuel Mudiay (probable), Gary Harris (questionable), Darrell Arthur (questionable), Anthony Davis (probable), Jrue Holiday (out), Tyreke Evans (out), Quincy Pondexter (out).

Key Matchup: Nuggets paint scoring vs Anthony Davis

Few NBA players instill as much fear in the paint as Anthony Davis has done in his career, averaging 2.4 blocks per game and changing countless others. He may be a little banged up on a sprained ankle, but he’s still Anthony freaking Davis.

The Nuggets have developed this starting lineup including their two young centers. You may have heard of it. It’s called Balkan Buddy Ball by the head coach. The lineup will likely cause Davis to defend Jokic on most possessions. Because of this, I would recommend using Jokic at the high post, the top of the key, and in the corners to neutralize the effectiveness of Davis on the defensive end. Drawing the Unibrow out of the paint will not only help Mudiay, Barton, Gallinari, and others in the paint, but if Davis decides to sag off Jokic, the young Serbian can make him pay.

The Nuggets should certainly attack the paint early and often in this game to test Davis on that end. If Davis cannot respond with his usually elite rim protection, then the Nuggets should have a field day.

Key Statistic: 24.0

This is the average age of my projected ten man rotation going into the season: Emmanuel Mudiay, Gary Harris, Jamal Murray, Will Barton, Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Kenneth Faried, Darrell Arthur, Nikola Jokic, Jusuf Nurkic. Currently, injuries affect how the rotation may look, but still, with five guys 22 years old or younger, growing pains will not just be a concern, they will be an inevitability. That being said, playing time is one of the best accelerators of development known to us, and it’s clear these young guys will be learning on the fly.

The other side of the spectrum is the five veterans 25 years old or above. Barton is considered a veteran now, and he will join Gallo, Ill Will, the Manimal, and Darth in steadying the boat. The majority of the win shares are likely to come from this group, and it will be because they have a tangible impact. Look for the veterans to come out ready to go on opening night, free of nerves and tentativeness. I expect this group to dominate opening night.

Spotlight on: Jamal Murray

How will the seventh overall pick in this past draft respond to a matchup against Buddy Hield, the shooting guard taken one spot before him? Will he come out firing? Will he show nerves? I hope Jamal has the full experience in New Orleans. I hope he gets pushed around a little bit, as all rookies do. I also hope he rustles up a little bit of that fire he plays with on a consistent basis. Murray is a competitive player, and having recently watched his tape from his run with the Canadian national team, I hope he sets the tone early on. He doesn’t need to repeatedly shoot jump shots in isolation to do that, but being aggressive and taking the ball inside would bode well for his overall game. Once he sees a few layups go through the net, look out from downtown.

Prediction: Nuggets win 103-90

I have full faith in Nikola Jokic forcing Anthony Davis to take as tough of shots as possible, and as long as the Nuggets keep their turnovers in check and control the glass, they can withstand Davis scoring 30 points on 25 attempts. The team holds advantages everywhere else on the court besides the Jokic/Davis matchup, and if they come out and play with an edge, I think they will walk out of Smoothie King Center with a victory.

NumberFire.com’s player stat projections


***Stiffs Night Out***

We will be hosting SNO on opening night (October 26) at our home sports bar, Jake's Sports & Spirits in Denver's vibrant RiNo neighborhood at 3800 Walnut Street, Denver CO. Located conveniently across the street from the new 38th and Blake Commuter Rail Station and just five minutes (by car) from Coors Field. Jake's will extend happy hour for all Stiffs attendees.

The event is free to attend and all ages are welcome. It's a great way to meet fellow Nuggets fans and Stiffs readers in a fun and friendly environment. We look forward to seeing you there!