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Preview: wounded Nuggets host beat-up Grizzlies

The Nuggets hope to avoid a Leonardo DiCaprio-like mauling when Memphis comes to town

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

If it wasn't for bad luck, the Denver Nuggets would have no luck at all.  Ray Charles sang it, and I believe it.  With the news that head coach Michael Malone expects Danilo Gallinari to be out for "an extended period" and is doubtful for the homestand, and the rumor that he could miss the next four weeks, the Nuggets are running short of lineup veterans to help shoulder the load.  After blowing the late lead and losing in Dallas, Denver is both angry and (more) short-handed.

Memphis has its own injuries woes with Marc Gasol lost for the remainder of the year and an assortment of knee injuries shortening their bench.  A loss to the Suns definitely has Memphis ready to take out their frustrations inside the Pepsi Center.  Wounded bears tend to be angry too, so the Nuggets will need to dig deep in order to start off the homestand with a win.

The Basics

Who: Memphis Grizzlies (34-24) at Denver Nuggets (23-36)

When: 7:00 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 P.J. Hairston Gary Harris Even
SF Matt Barnes Will Barton Nuggets
PF Zach Randolph Kenneth Faried Nuggets
C Chris Andersen Nikola Jokic Nuggets
Bench

Jeff Green,Vince Carter, Lance StephensonMario Chalmers

D.J. Augustin, Jusuf NurkicJoffrey LauvergneMike MillerDarrell Arthur, JaKarr Sampson Grizzlies

Injured Players: Wilson Chandler - Out (hip), Jameer Nelson - Doubtful (wrist), Danilo Gallinari - Out (ankle), Emmanuel Mudiay - probable (calf), Jarell Martin - Out (foot), Tony Allen - Out (knee), Brandan Wright - Doubtful (knee), Marc Gasol - Out (foot)

Important matchup: the broken vs. the wounded.  Neither team is healthy, or has been for much of the year. Denver is second in the league in man-games lost to injury this season and Memphis is fifth.  Memphis's starting lineup is a complete guess because if Brandan Wright can't go it throws off their makeshift rotation even further.  Meanwhile, Denver has to decide whether to start Will Barton - whose biggest strength is his ability to go one-on-five and ignore the offensive principles when the bench needs a scorer - or give big minutes to their most inept offensive player JaKarr Sampson.

The Grizzlies have given up 105 points per game since the All-Star break, as the loss of Gasol along with Tony Allen has compromised both their perimeter defense and their interior presence.  The Nuggets meanwhile have given Jusuf Nurkic several healthy scratches and have only managed to keep their opponents under 114 points once over the same time frame.  Neither team has all the parts to play the way they would like, but Malone will hopefully show more flexibility with his rotations than is his wont.  Whichever coach can find the right pieces to pair for the longest stretches should win.  The question is whether the Nuggets want to do that, which leads us to...

One thought, two parts:

1) The Nuggets have more important things to do than put a notch in the victory column. I'm not much of a tanker at heart, but Denver has several important needs for the future, and present-day wins are less valuable in certain contexts. Denver has to get Nurkic back to his healthy form from last year.  Finding out whether any of the transitory pieces like Augustin and Sampson should stay next year is useful.  Allowing the team to make mistakes on the court that can be learned from is a big deal, rather than covering up deficiencies with bandaids only to have those same issues crop up next year.  Getting another top player in the draft would help as well, and losses help more than wins in most cases.  I'm not rooting for a loss, but I am looking for Denver to work on player development rather than focusing on victories.

2) Without Gallinari the playoffs are out of reach. That brings a bit of freedom, as in some ways this latest injury to Gallo is helpful.  He was averaging the most minutes per game of his career, and with his stated intention to play international ball this summer in the hopes of getting Italy into the Olympics, this rest might help him stay healthy over the next 12 months.  Malone gets the chance to find out who can play together and who cannot, and this also gives him the freedom to experiment with lineups if he chooses to. I hope he chooses to. The Jokic / Nurkic pairing might finally rear its head since we're low on small forwards and could try to go big instead, but player growth needs to bring any wins down the stretch.  Aiming for wins alone could be counter-productive.

Prediction: Grizzlies 102, Nuggets 100. I expect it to be a weird game, so why not expect a Nuggets victory?  Except of course for that bad luck thing (which in this case might be good luck for the future - we hope).  Sing it, Ray...