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Preview: Nuggets take on Brooklyn Nets in first Mile High City Night of the season

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Nikola Jokic could look to make a statement in Denver’s statement jerseys tonight.

NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

It’s only fitting that the Denver Nuggets are wearing their new Statement jersey on Friday night against the Brooklyn Nets, because the offense needs to change the narrative.

This game is the first Mile High City Night of the season, and the Nuggets will don the skyline blue uniforms they showcased in the offseason. Here’s a clear look at the jersey from Altitude Authentics (get your own jersey today and wear it to the game).

This skyline blue jersey is sure to interest Nuggets fans on Friday nights.
Altitude Authentics

In addition, the Nuggets have customized the central logo on the Pepsi Center floor to feature an alternate logo with more city ties.

Now, the Nuggets need to make a statement that their offense isn’t broken. I pointed out on Twitter today that Denver’s offensive numbers have been bolstered by poor defensive teams. In general, the Nuggets struggled when facing competent defensive teams.

The Brooklyn Nets are currently 17th in Defensive Rating, not an elite defense by any stretch of the word but competent at the very least. The Nuggets, in particular Nikola Jokic, must fight through whatever problems are occurring and beat an inferior opponent on their home floor. It’s a requirement, but it won’t be easy.

The Basics

Who: Denver Nuggets (9-2) vs Brooklyn Nets (5-6)

When: 7:00 PM MT

Where: Pepsi Center - Denver, CO

How to watch: Altitude TV, NBA League Pass

Rival Blog: Nets Daily

Injury Report:

Paul Millsap - probable (ankle), Will Barton - out (core/hip), Isaiah Thomas - out (hip), Michael Porter Jr. - out (back), Jarred Vanderbilt - out (foot), DeMarre Carroll - probable (ankle), Treveon Graham - out (left hamstring strain)

Three things to watch:

A response to adversity for Nikola Jokic

4 points, 7 points, 8 points, and 4 points. These are the last four performances for Jokic in the scoring column, and the last one couldn’t have come at a worse time. The Nuggets scored just 87 points on Wednesday versus the Memphis Grizzlies, and while an argument could be made that Jokic made the right decision by passing out of most of his shots, it was clear that there were no good options on the floor for Denver. Sometimes, Jokic will be forced to fight through adversity and make the best of a bad situation. Wednesday was an opportunity for him to lift up his teammates when things were going wrong around him, and he didn’t handle the situation like a leader.

In 2017-18, the Nuggets were 18-7 when Jokic posted at least 20 points and five assists. They were also 11-2 when he posted 10 assists or more. Denver is at its best when Jokic is actively seeking to create offense. It doesn’t matter whether he’s looking to pass or looking to score. What matters is his ability to do both because the opposing team respects both potential outcomes. If the defense turns Jokic into a one dimensional player, they’ve already won.

Now, he can turn his attention to the Brooklyn Nets, the team against which he owns a career high in points (41 early last season). That team featured Timofey Mozogv and Tyler Zeller as its center rotation, while this year’s version features Jarrett Allen and Ed Davis. That being said, it would be poetic for Jokic to get back into scoring mode against the Nets. While Allen is a solid defender, he’s young and likes to hang around the rim. Jokic can exploit that.

How does Denver defend Caris LeVert?

That’s right. LeVert is officially in star company with his start to this season. Who knows if it will last, but what truly matters is how he’s playing right now. With three straight games of 20 points or more, Denver’s biggest priority defensively should be to neutralize him. The best defender to match up with LeVert is Torrey Craig, who has the size, agility, and defensive IQ to make things difficult for the star wing. Having Craig on the floor does cause spacing problems on offense, but this is a matchup I can see making sense to have Craig on the floor to begin the game.

How does Denver balance offense and defense tonight?

As has been noted, the offense and Jokic in particular have not responded well to the addition of Torrey Craig in the starting lineup.

Craig does make Denver better defensively. While he works on the opposing team’s primary ball handler, Gary Harris and Paul Millsap are free to roam the floor and rotate at will. Against the Nets with a particularly strong scorer and merely average defense, that may be the recipe for success tonight.

However, it stands to reason that Denver’s biggest priority should be to get Nikola Jokic back into high gear as a creator. He passes reasonably well in any lineup, but his scoring receives a substantial uptick in efficiency when Craig is off the floor. That spot is usually filled by Juancho Hernangomez or Malik Beasley, two far more dynamic offensive options that give up some defense to Craig.

How Malone balances his commitment to defense and the need to get Nikola Jokic going again will be an inflection point for this season.