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Preview: Denver Nuggets at Boston Celtics

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The Nuggets look to recover from a difficult loss in Detroit against a borderline elite Celtics team.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Detroit Pistons Leon Halip-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets will take on the Boston Celtics in the second night of a back-to-back on Sunday night at TD Garden. The game follows up a bad showing against the Detroit Pistons the night before, a game that got away from the Nuggets in the first quarter again. Unlike games past, the Pistons didn’t allow the Nuggets to ever battle all the way back, and the contest ended in a blowout.

The best thing the Nuggets can do after a bad loss is to just forget about it. The Celtics are a completely different team and will be without their star center Al Horford. While the Nuggets will be without Will Barton once again, Gary Harris and Darrell Arthur have come back and shaken off a bit of rust and will look to add reinforcements. They are desperately needed against a strong Celtics team, even without Horford and Jae Crowder.

The Basics:

Who: Denver Nuggets vs Boston Celtics

When: 5:30 PM MDT

Where: TD Garden, Boston, Massachusetts

How to watch/listen: Altitude, AM 950

Rival Blog: Celtics Blog

Position Denver Boston Advantage
PG Emmanuel Mudiay Isaiah Thomas Celtics
SG Jameer Nelson Avery Bradley Celtics
SF Danilo Gallinari Jaylen Brown Nuggets
PF Nikola Jokic Amir Johnson Even
C Jusuf Nurkic Tyler Zeller Nuggets
Bench Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Wilson Chandler, Darrell Arthur, Kenneth Faried Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier, Gerald Green, Jonas Jerebko,Jordan Mickey Nuggets

Injury Report: Will Barton - out (ankle), Al Horford - out (concussion), Jae Crowder - out (ankle)

Three things to watch:

Who will be in the starting lineup?

Michael Malone said something very interesting after the game last night about the starting lineup for tonight’s contest against the Celtics.

If that’s the case, then one of Emmanuel Mudiay, Jamal Murray, Nikola Jokic, or Jusuf Nurkic will likely be sent to the bench. Danilo Gallinari is all but guaranteed to remain in the lineup, but given the erratic play of the guards and possibly going away from Balkan Buddy Ball, anything is possible. I projected Jameer Nelson to start next to Mudiay tomorrow, but frankly, anything is possible. Wilson Chandler could start. Kenneth Faried could start. Gary Harris could even start. I have no idea what Malone has in store, but he will likely move to a more veteran group of starters after another pitiful first quarter.

Given how Wilson Chandler has played, I would seriously look into breaking up Balkan Buddy Ball and play a Gallo-Chandler forward combination. Chandler’s two-way prowess thus far has been a bright spot off the Nuggets bench, and I would move Jusuf Nurkic to the bench and feature him as much as possible against second units. That’s how the Nuggets have got back into games in the second quarter so far, and it makes sense to explore further.

Will a backcourt player please stand up?

Emmanuel Mudiay - 0/7 from the field.

Jamal Murray - 4/10 from the field.

Jameer Nelson - 1/8 from the field.

Gary Harris - 1/5 from the field.

Murray may have looked effective from a box score perspective, but he accumulated three baskets in garbage time. They were good baskets, but far less meaningful than one would think. The backcourt cannot continue to be awful if the Nuggets value winning basketball games. There needs to be a spark of some sort as it appears the guards are going through the same sets with the same results.

It’s unlikely that Gary Harris is ready to return to full-time starting duties right now, especially on a back-to-back. That means that some combination of Emmanuel Mudiay, Jameer Nelson, and Jamal Murray will be used to begin the contest. None of the options are great at this point, but I would like to see Jamal Murray continue to get more run. Take of that what you will.

How will the Nuggets respond to a beatdown?

Every team struggles at one point or another. So far, the Golden State Warriors have failed to play above average defense, and they are one of the best teams in the league with some very talented players. The Nuggets are not only an average team, but they are young and very inexperienced. How will the group respond to an immediate turnaround after a difficult loss?

The most important quarter for the Nuggets has not been the third quarter when they excel, but the first quarter. In the first 12 minutes to start the year, the Nuggets have a plus/minus of -37, with the last positive quarter coming in the home opener against the now 0-6 New Orleans Pelicans. The starting group so far has been incapable of rising to the challenge of the other team’s best group. Will a potential change or two to the opening group fix that?

Final Thought: It’s not about the Boston Celtics

The Boston Celtics are a great team. They have some great players in Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley healthy, and a great prospect in Jaylen Brown playing well. They will probably win 50 games this year, and this is likely what some would consider a “schedule loss” for the Nuggets going from Detroit to Boston.

It’s time for Mudiay, Gallo, Jokic, and others to show some fight and be more aggressive to the paint, and I mean directly into the paint. Too many guys are fading and avoiding contact, but that contact is directly tied into the Nuggets’ identity of getting to the free throw line. The team only attempted 20 free throws last night, and that’s way too few for a team featuring Gallinari, Nurkic, and a paint crasher in Mudiay.

Be aggressive to the paint, play hard on defense, make the right pass, and live with the turnovers if they are made with the right thought in mind. The rest will certainly follow. Because the Celtics are down a couple of key players, the Nuggets could win this one, but for me, it’s about getting back to playing the right way.

Prediction: 106 - 100 Celtics.