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Preview: shorthanded Nuggets host Memphis Grizzlies in their return to Denver

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That road trip was great, until it wasn’t. Now, the shorthanded Nuggets will take on one of the league’s most competitive teams in their return home.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Memphis Grizzlies Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

As we all predicted at the start of the season, two of the West’s top teams, and the league’s elite defenses, will battle it out when the Denver Nuggets and Memphis Grizzlies collide on Monday night—with Nick Young serving as the ultimate X-Factor.

What a season it’s been already.

The last time the Nuggets played the Grizzlies, they were riding high following their 9-1 start, but a loss in Memphis marked the beginning of a 1-6 tail slide that included tension both on and off the court. The Nuggets play host this time around, as they scramble to keep their heads above water now that three starters are missing time. Over half of Denver’s payroll will be in street clothes for tonight’s game, which is, well, it’s not great, Bob.

In Paul Millsap’s absence, head coach Michael Malone slid Trey Lyles into the starting lineup in Denver’s loss to the Atlanta Hawks. Malone will have a decision to make tonight as Memphis will start both Marc Gasol and the electric rookie, Jaren Jackson Jr. Lyles has struggled this season, and Mason Plumlee may be better suited to defend one of Memphis’ monsters.

The Grizzlies, who boast the fourth best defensive efficiency in the league, per Cleaning The Glass, are known for their deviant strategy of slowing the game down. While the rest of the league pushes the pace and hunts for threes, the Grizzlies drag you through the mud with their methodic approach and physicality.

The Nuggets will have their hands full as they attempt to pull off what would be among their most improbable victories of the season.


The Basics

Who: Memphis Grizzlies (15-10) at Denver Nuggets (17-9)

When: 7:00 PM MST

Where: Pepsi Center, Denver, CO

How to watch/listen: Altitude TV, AltitudeNOW.com, the AltitudeNOW App and Altitude Radio 92.5 FM

Rival Blog: Grizzly Bear Blues


Injury Report:

Denver:

**takes a deep breath**

Jamal Murray - QUESTIONABLE (shin), Will Barton - OUT (hip/core), Gary Harris - OUT (hip/core), Paul Millsap - OUT (toe), Isaiah Thomas - OUT (hip), Michael Porter Jr. - OUT (back), Jarred Vanderbilt - OUT (foot)

Memphis:

Dillon Brooks - OUT (knee), Chandler Parsons - OUT (knee)


Three things to watch for:

Swaggy P

I can’t believe I’m going to write this, but there’s a real chance that Nick Young checks into tonight’s game for the Denver Nuggets. Malone was asked at shootaround if he’d feel comfortable throwing him out there, and he confirmed that it’s on the table.

“He’s here for a reason.”

I’m not sure if Nick Young helps you win a basketball game, but I am sure that having him here will be entertaining. Perhaps we’ll get our first taste of that tonight.

Matchup problems in the frontcourt

The Grizzlies will toss out one of the most impressive rookies in the 2018 draft class when they start Jaren Jackson Jr., and he’ll line up alongside one of the league’s best centers in Marc Gasol. This presents matchup problems for most teams, but it’s a nightmare for the Nuggets without their defensive centerpiece, Paul Millsap. How will Trey Lyles fare with such an arduous defensive assignment? Or will Malone turn to a two-center lineup and start Mason Plumlee? Either way, the Nuggets will need Nikola Jokic to turn in one of his best defensive performances of the season if they hope to keep this game competitive.

The spacing

When the Nuggets lost to the Grizzlies in Memphis, the story was Nikola Jokic’s shooting, or really lack thereof. Big Honey shot the ball just once—the final shot of the game—drawing both iron and ire. But there was more to the loss than his no show. The Nuggets started Torrey Craig in place of Will Barton, and Denver’s spacing in the half court offense collapsed. Memphis ignored Craig, helping hard and often, as the Nuggets essentially played four-on-five on the offensive end. Without Harris, Barton, and Millsap, it’s possible that both Craig and Plumlee are out there with the starters. Memphis will likely utilize the same strategy on defense.

Prediction

As things stand, the Nuggets are listed as 2.5 point favorites over the Grizzlies. 2.5 is a small bone to throw, but I’d take Memphis and the points in this one. The Nuggets played one of their worst games of the season in Atlanta—shorthanded they may have been, but the ball movement was sloppy, the shot making was poor, and the defense was horrid. It’s hard to like their chances against a team like Memphis right now given the circumstances, even if they are at home.

Final score: Memphis 95 - 89 Denver