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Preview: Nuggets take on struggling Knicks to start the New Year

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The New York Knicks are looking to stop a 7-game losing streak as Emmanuel Mudiay makes his return to Denver.

NBA: New York Knicks at Utah Jazz Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets are coming off a win against the lowly Phoenix Suns on Saturday and are set to match up against the New York Knicks, a team that has one less loss than Denver’s most recent opponent. The Knicks have been without injured star Kristaps Porzingis all season as he recovers from a torn ACL that he suffered last February, and he’s definitely been missed. The Knicks are 1-9 in their last 10 games and they will be trying to snap a 7-game losing streak tonight against the Nuggets.

This game means the return of Emmanuel Mudiay, one-time face of the franchise for the Nuggets and now a player trying to find his home in New York. The Nuggets’ starting point-guard, Jamal Murray, meanwhile, is coming off of his second 40-point game of the season. The next three games for the Nuggets are important, as the schedule toughens next week. With injured starters Gary Harris and Will Barton likely to make their returns very soon, we may be close to seeing this team at the healthiest they have been all season. If the Nuggets want to try to gain some distance between the teams on their heels in the standings, this would be a great time to do so.

The Basics

Who: Denver Nuggets (23-11) at New York Knicks (9-28)

When: 7:00 PM MST

Where: Pepsi Center, Denver, Colorado

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

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Projected Matchups

Position Nuggets Knicks Advantage
Position Nuggets Knicks Advantage
PG Jamal Murray Emmanuel Muiday Nuggets
SG Torrey Craig Tim Hardaway Jr Knicks
SF Juancho Hernangomez Kevin Knox Nuggets
PF Nikola Jokic Noah Vonleh Nuggets
C Mason Plumlee Luke Kornet Nuggets
Bench Paul Millsap, Gary Harris, Monte Morris, Malik Beasley, Trey Lyles Enes Kanter, Frank Ntilikina, Allonzo Trier, Damyean Dotson Nuggets

Injured players: Gary Harris - questionable (groin), Will Barton - out (groin), Isaiah Thomas - out (hip), Michael Porter Jr - out (back), Jarred Vanderbilt - out (foot), Emmanuel Mudiay - game time decision (ankle), Enes Kanter - game time decision (back), Mitchell Robinson - game time decision (ankle), Isaiah Hicks - game time decision (ankle), Kristaps Porzingis - out (knee).

Key Matchup: Emmanuel Mudiay vs. Jamal Murray

Mudiay is returning to the Pepsi Center for the first time since being traded last season for Devin Harris. While he is questionable with an ankle injury, he has indicated that he will play. Although Mudiay’s time in Denver did not end the way many thought it would after essentially becoming the face of the franchise in his rookie season, he is playing a lot better in New York. He’s averaging 14.2 points and 3.8 assists in 26 minutes played per game. The Nuggets knew they had to make a decision with Mudiay after seeing Jamal Murray come into his own as the starting point guard last season. With an already full backcourt in Harris, Barton, and a player that has turned into an extremely solid backup in Monte Morris, it’s safe to say Mudiay would not be getting the opportunity to turn his career around in Denver that he is in New York. This game should be a fun matchup between Mudiay and Murray, the latter of which is coming off a 46-point game against the Phoenix Suns.

What to watch for: The rotation

The Nuggets are finally starting to get healthy after missing three starters for most of the month of December. It will be interesting to see what happens tonight, as Paul Millsap is working his way back into the rotation and could potentially see more minutes than the 14 that he notched on Saturday. Harris, who has been out since December 3rd with a hip injury, is questionable on the injury report. If he makes his return tonight, the Nuggets are one step closer to showing fans what the team can look like fully healthy. This will make Michael Malone’s job difficult, in the best way possible. Malik Beasley is coming off a couple of great games, and Juancho Hernangomez has shown fans how valuable it is to have a player that is as skilled as he is at spacing the floor. Torrey Craig has also stepped up in a big way, providing hustle when it’s needed and also proving that he’s working on his shooting from long distance. Tonight may be a small indicator of who will see less minutes with the return of Denver’s injured players.

Opening thought: The time is now for the Nuggets to separate themselves

The Nuggets are currently first in the Western Conference somehow, despite the myriad of injuries they have had all season. With players starting to come back after extended absences, the team is in a great place for the second half of the season. With the schedule getting tougher starting next week, it will be interesting to see if the Nuggets stay on pace with the Golden State Warriors and the rest of the elite teams in the West or if they can even pull ahead in the standings. In order to do so, they will have to win the games that they are supposed to, and that includes tonight against a struggling Knicks team.