The Houston Rockets have Denver’s number.
Coming into tonight’s game, the Nuggets had everything working in their favor. They had won six of their last eight games including some impressive wins over the NBA’s elite teams, they had three days of rest, and they were as confident as they had been since November. Yet they still managed to get waxed by the Rockets for the second time this season, falling 130-104. Denver plays the Rockets again later this month and, at the risk of getting too far ahead of myself, they’ll likely get waxed once again.
Mike D’Antoni’s Rockets are the perfect foil to Denver. They allow the 8th fewest fast break points per game and rank first in opponent offensive rebounds per 100 possessions, two areas the Nuggets rely very heavily on for points. On the other end of the floor, they are perhaps the best team in NBA history at spreading the court with shooters and placing teams in the pick and roll. Denver struggles fighting through ball screens while Nikola Jokic struggles mightily at containing in space. Put all of that together and you’ve got a nightmare matchup for the Nuggets.
Tonight, that perfect storm was on full display as Denver fell behind by 17 points at the half and trailed by as many as 35 points before the clock mercifully ticked to 0:00. Clint Capela, the Rockets workhorse center and the NBA leader in FG%, put up Wilt Chamberlain numbers to the tune of 23 points and a career-high 25 rebounds. Not one of his points or rebounds came with much resistance. James Harden would orchestrate the pick and roll and Denver, in their effort to contain him, would either lose Capela altogether or switch someone way too small onto him in an effort to “tag” the rolling big man.
This is a bad matchup for Denver and sadly, it’s a somewhat likely matchup for the Nuggets should they reach the playoffs. If that is the case, Denver gets one more test run against them on February 25th. We’ll see if they can crack the code at the friendly confines of Pepsi Center.
Denver has now lost 7 straight road games. Their last road win was against the Golden State Warriors all the way back on December 23rd. All of those road losses came either against elite competition (Spurs two times, Warriors, Rockets) or on the second night of a back-to-back (Clippers, Kings), but it’s still concerning just how different the Nuggets look on the road.
Monte Morris shines
The silver lining of this game was that it provided our first good look at Monte Morris, the team’s other two-way contact player. Morris looked great tonight. He’s my favorite type of point guard, a mistake-free, high IQ passer who sets the table so well and can score if the defense overplays the assist. He finished with 10 points and 6 assists in just 22 minutes, most of which came in the second half. He looked like a legitimate backup point guard.
Gotta knock down shots
When was the last time Gary Harris struggled to make wide open shots? I’m not sure I remember a time in the Michael Malone era. Tonight Harris opened the game 0-4 and went downhill from there. The Nuggets offense was humming early on with great passing and spacing but all of their open shots clanked off of the back iron. They finished just 3 of 28 from three. Against Houston, that slow start turned into an insurmountable deficit before the team could break a sweat.
Final stats | Points - Rebounds - Assists
Nikola Jokic | 14-7-5
Gary Harris | 8-1-3
Jamal Murray | 6-1-2
Trey Lyles | 24-7-4