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Preview: Denver vs Houston

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Denver hosts James Harden and the Houston Rockets in the first nationally broadcasted Nuggets game of the season (except NBA TV).

NBA: Houston Rockets at Denver Nuggets Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

In the NBA, there are different types of wins and losses. Some are good, some are bad. Most are dependent on the schedule and how it’s played out up until this point.

The debacle against the Miami Heat was a terrible, terrible loss. It was disjointed, sloppy, and within reach the entire time for the Nuggets to take control, and they just couldn’t. Color me a fan looking through my Nuggets-gold tinted glasses, but was incredibly disappointing to see the Nuggets lose that game. Nearly everyone was picking it to be an easy victory. The Nuggets (and their fans) now know that there are no easy victories in the NBA. Business must be taken care of in this league.

Of course, life goes on, and there is no better opportunity to get back on track than tonight. The Houston Rockets come to town at the end of a five game road trip. They just played the Golden State Warriors in the Bay Area last night, and they are tired and likely itching to get home. The game will also be on national television (ESPN to be exact), and it will be the first opportunity for the Nuggets to make an impression on a major audience. Everybody needs to come to play tonight to neutralize the best offense in the NBA, but sometimes, just playing with boundless energy on both ends will get the job done. Execution is important, but in some of the Nuggets’ losses, they have lacked fight, especially at the end of games. That can’t happen against James Harden and an elite group of open shot makers.

The Basics:

Who: Houston Rockets (12-7) vs Denver Nuggets (7-11)

When: 8:30 P.M. MST

Where: The Can, Denver CO

How to watch/listen: ESPN, KKSE AM 950 Altitude Radio

Rival blog: The Dream Shake

Position Denver Houston Advantage
PG Emmanuel Mudiay James Harden Rockets
SG Jameer Nelson Patrick Beverley Even
SF Danilo Gallinari Trevor Ariza Nuggets
PF Kenneth Faried Ryan Anderson Even
C Jusuf Nurkic Clint Capela Rockets
Bench Jamal Murray, Alonzo Gee, Wilson Chandler, Juancho Hernangomez, Darrell Arthur, Nikola Jokic Eric Gordon, K.J. McDaniels, Corey Brewer, Sam Dekker, Montrezl Harrell, Nene Nuggets

Key Matchup: Emmanuel Mudiay vs James Harden

This isn’t the key matchup because it will likely be close, but the performance of Emmanuel Mudiay will likely dictate the outcome of this game. Gary Harris is out, and Will Barton is still hobbled (if he plays at all). That means that the two best matchups against James Harden physically are Mudiay and Wilson Chandler. I’m not expecting either to stop Harden, but making his life as difficult as possible would be a great start. Since Harden is the point guard, the matchups would be a lot easier if Mudiay was a passable defender tonight.

Also, after a nice string of games offensively, Mudiay put up a bit of a dud against Miami. He struggled getting caught on screens defensively, and he made some boneheaded plays offensively. He can’t lose confidence tonight against the best offensive team in the league. They will put up points, even coming off of a back to back. Mudiay needs to help orchestrate the team on the other end, as he will have strong potential against Harden. I’m looking for Mudiay to post a solid all-around game tonight offensively, but he will need to apply the pressure the entire game.

Spotlight on: December Schedule

NBA.com writer John Schuhmann helped detail the schedule from December 1 to December 31 of this season based on advanced metrics built up to start the year. The Nuggets can be found highlighted in many of the “easiest” boxes.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com

This is really important. After playing one of the most difficult schedules in the entire NBA to start the season, the Nuggets face one of the weakest for the next four weeks. While the Utah Jazz clearly have a “scheduling” advantage, the level of competition the Nuggets face should allow for every single game played to be winnable.

Now, bad teams turn this next stretch of 15 games into 7-8 or lower, while good teams manage to go at least 10-5. The Nuggets are neither good or bad, but they have the potential to be both. The next 15 games will help Michael Malone, Tim Connelly, and the players themselves decide exactly what team they want to be. If they want to compete for the playoffs, the best and most effective players will rise to the occasion, and the ones who perform lackadaisically will see less minutes soon after. The first game is a pretty strong team in the Rockets, but very winnable at home.

Prediction: Nuggets 114, Rockets 110

Last time I did a preview, I was right about the outcome, and the Oklahoma City Thunder pulled away from the Nuggets at the end, though in overtime. This time, I expect the game to follow my preview and for Denver to come out on top in a high soring affair. I do have faith in Mudiay. I do have faith in Michael Malone making the right decisions for this basketball team. After a disappointing loss against the Heat, I think he and the Nuggets will come out fiery. Expect them to push ahead of the Rockets to start, then for Houston to battle back with a barrage of Harden assists. I do believe Mudiay will help close this game out though. The Rockets just finished an overtime game, and the Nuggets should absolutely take advantage.