After wandering in the desert for 40 years, the Nuggets are almost back to the promised land of Denver, Colorado. They have only one last stop to make on this 5 game road trip, and that's in Memphis. The Grizzlies are wrapping up a homestand, having dropped their last two. In fact the Grizzlies are still looking for a signature win after having to come back against the Timberwolves in the season opener and winning their other two games this year in overtime. Denver will have to overcome their own road weariness and buckle down to secure a winning roadtrip and head home in high spirits.
Three things to watch:
Frontcourt vs. frontcourt. Denver is still sorting out its paint players. Kenneth Faried is now coming off the bench, but how much to play Jokic and Nurkic together is a point of contention amongst fans and something that coach Michael Malone hasn't settled on yet. Jokic played just 14 minutes against the Timberwolves on this road trip and Jusuf Nurkic played only 13 minutes against the Boston Celtics. It's hard to call that roster conservation when Gallinari played 40+ minutes on the second night of a back-to-back, so it may simply be that Malone hasn't yet found the right balance in the frontcourt, especially with Darrell Arthur still not in peak form after his knee surgery right before the season.
The Grizzlies are having similar problems allocating their own frontcourt minutes. Zach Randolph is coming off the bench now but new head coach David Fizdale says he erred in not playing Randolph down the stretch of their most recent loss to Portland. The team that gets its frontcourt rotations right has the advantage in pulling out this win in an interior slugfest. We might even get treated to another Gasol / Nurkic face-off now that Jusuf is healthy again, and who wouldn't want that?
Gallo vs. Chandler (Parsons): I was going to go with Chandler vs. Chandler, but Wilson tweaked his hamstring in Boston and there's no update on how he's feeling. If he can't go or is limited, the burden falls to Gallo alone to dominate this matchup. Chandler Parsons has been beat up this year, getting his first game action in just the last game. Gallinari should dominate this match-up, provided he calls for the ball and is determined to score. Gallo is the better player and the healthier player (don't get to say that last one too often), and this is one of those times he needs to play like Denver's best player and go off.
Nuggets vs. the 4th quarter: Unless the Conley and Allen injuries are serious (in which case Mudiay had better drive to the rack like there's no tomorrow) this is likely to be a tight game. Portland couldn't pull away from Memphis on Sunday, and those two OT games show Memphis isn't a pulling-away kind of team either, even under new coaching. The Nuggets are going to have to avoid their 4th quarter swoon and stay aggressive for 4 quarters to take this game from Memphis.
Prediction: Denver figures out how to bring it for 4 quarters and while both teams are beat up, Denver has the depth that Memphis lacks. 99-92, Nuggets.
Bonus: re-live Mudiay's 24 point first quarter, complete with Malik Beasley breaking out the hot sauce! Here's hoping for another game like that one for Denver.