After a superb start to March, the Denver Nuggets find themselves limping to the finish line of the season. The 5-2 home stand is a distant memory as the Nuggets have gone just 3-6 in their last nine, with two of those wins coming against the Philadelphia 76ers and Los Angeles Lakers, aka the two worst teams in the Association. They'll find little reprieve tonight as they face the playoff bound Memphis Grizzlies in Memphis.
Fortunately for Denver, the Grizzlies have been beset by a myriad of injuries this season, including losing their star center Marc Gasol for the season. Star point guard Mike Conley is also out and noted big man Zach Randolph is a game time decision. Six players in all make the injury report for the Grizzlies, leaving them with a patchwork lineup and, undoubtedly, it's had an effect. Memphis has dropped seven of their last nine and is in danger of falling from the fifth seed, which would carry a manageable match up against the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round of the playoffs, to the sixth seed which offers a much less desirable match up with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
As our Adam Mares pointed out, Denver has every reason to want to lose out the season, and with reports that Danilo Gallinari believes his season may be over, that task may be easily accomplished. However, despite facing a playoff team on their home court, the injuries to Memphis actually might give the Nuggets the talent advantage. If Denver gets a performance from their starters like they got against the Clippers on Sunday, or if they get a major case of butterfingers like they did against the Dallas Mavericks on Monday, then the Grizzlies will get the victory. However, if the team comes out and plays focused and executes, its hard to see the Nuggets losing this one.
Who: Denver Nuggets (31-44) at Memphis Grizzlies (41-33)
When: 6PM MDT
Where: FedExForum, Memphis TN
How to watch/listen: Altitude TV and KKSE AM 950
Rival blog: Grizzly Bear Blues
|Memphis Grizzlies||Denver Nuggets
|PG||Jordan Farmar||Emmanuel Mudiay||Nuggets|
|SG||Tony Allen||Gary Harris||Even|
|SF||Matt Barnes||Jakarr Sampson||Grizzlies|
|PF||Zach Randolph||Kenneth Faried||Grizzlies|
|C||Chris Andersen||Nikola Jokic||Nuggets
Will Barton, D.J. Augustin, Axel Toupane, Darrell Arthur, Joffrey Lauvergne, Mike Miller, Jusuf Nurkic,Jameer Nelson
Injured players: Kenneth Faried - probable (back), Jusuf Nurkic - questionable (illness), Danilo Gallinari - out (ankle), Wilson Chandler - out (hip), Zach Randolph - questionable (ankle), Brandan Wright - out (knee), Mike Conley - out (achilles), P.J. Hairston - out (groin), Jordan Adams - out (knee), Marc Gasol - out (foot)
Key match up: Zach Randolph vs Kenneth Faried
This is of course contingent on Randolph being a go tonight but if he is, this is where Denver could get hurt. Randolph has feasted on the Nuggets this season, averaging just under twenty points a game when facing them. In fact, the only game he didn't eclipse the twenty point mark was back in January when Gasol put up a 27 spot on the Nuggets. It's no secret that Faried struggles defending Randolph and if he faces him tonight he's going to have to be up to the task. He has however been able to find success offensively against the Grizzlies so look for a big night all around from the Manimal if Denver is to get the win.
Key thing to watch for: No more grinding it out
The Grizzlies have only kept five teams under 100 points in the month of March, and two of those games were against the Phoenix Suns and Sacramento Kings who scored 97 and 98 points respectively. With the rash of injuries, the Grizzlies simply don't have the defense to win games 88-85 like they are used to. With this in mind the Nuggets should look to get out and run in the Grindhouse tonight as Memphis has also managed just three wins this month when allowing opponents to score 100+ points. While Chris "Grizzzilla" Andersen does provide something in the way of rim protection, there should be little resistance on the defensive end to keep the Nuggets from putting up a bunch of points.
Opening thought: Denver needs to use this game to figure out Nurkic/Jokic
The Nuggets have a dilemma at their center position. They have two young, talented centers who both have the skill set to demand starters minutes. As Adam pointed out in his piece, the Nuggets can tank the remaining seven games not by outright trying to lose, but by experimenting with lineups to find out what works. The Jokic/Nurkic dilemma is by far the biggest lineup question facing Denver and with Randolph being anything but an athletic and quick power forward, tonight's the perfect night to give the Adriatic Arsenal plenty of burn on the court together.
Update (10:15 AM): According to Chris Dempsey of the Denver Post, Jusuf Nurkic is out for tonight's game so...so much for experimentation
#Nuggets C Jusuf Nurkic will miss his second straight game due to illness. He's out of tonight's game at Memphis— Chris Dempsey (@dempseypost) March 30, 2016