How big is it to win that first game in Portland against the Trail Blazers?
Brandon Ewing (@B_Skip1717): It is huge because it should give the Denver Nuggets confidence going forward. Nikola Jokic picked up his third foul with 8:15 remaining in the first quarter and had to sit out the entire first half. If you had no idea what the final score was and just saw that, there is a pretty good chance you would think Portland had won the game.
Well, the Nuggets were able to pick up the slack with Jokic off the floor until he came back in the third quarter. The Nuggets depth was tested just four minutes into the season and they passed with flying colors, which allowed them to pick up a massive road victory in Portland. That should give this teams loads of confidence from here on out.
Gordon Gross (@GMoneyNuggs): It’s always best to start the season out with a win. Being able to win with Jokic on the bench for a half and shooting that poorly from two? It’s pretty big. Malone needed a mouth guard to protect his teeth from all that grinding after a performance with so many deficiencies, but for the Nuggets themselves it’s great to see their bench step up, to see Jamal Murray keep his performance level up despite a poor shooting night, and to close out a good team on the road. Every team needs a gutty win to store in the memory banks for the season for when times get tough later and Denver took care of it in the first game.
Daniel Lewis (@minutemandan): It has to be nice to slay that demon that was the Trail Blazers. It definitely stung to lose to them at home in Game 7 of the playoffs, and while that wound won’t be totally healed until the playoffs, every win is nice. The Nuggets have a nice little rivalry with the Trail Blazers, so every win is nice. A division win can also play a role in a tiebreaker down the road. It was a big win.
Zach Mikash (@ZachMikash): I think because of the way the game went down it’s pretty big. At the end of the day it’s one game out of eighty-two and all eighty-two count the same but given that it’s the Blazers, the team you lost to in the playoffs on your home court, that makes it carry a little more emotionally. Add in the fact that Portland had won 18 home openers in a row and you had to do it without your star player for half the game and I think that makes it a pretty big deal. If anything, the Nuggets absolutely nurtured the narrative that they are for real as title contenders this season.
How does DeAndre Ayton being out change tonight’s game?
Ewing: It takes the Suns best player out of the mix, which is always a good thing. The sad thing is we will not be able to see Jokic go after Ayton in the post, which is always a lopsided matchup.
Jokic will now matchup against Aron Baynes, who could easily put together a much better performance than what Ayton usually has against the Nuggets. All in all, it is nice to have the Suns best player out, but it might actually help Phoenix when it is all said and done.
Gross: Jokic abused Ayton in their matchups last year. He may actually have a tougher time against Baynes, as Brandon said, just because of the way Baynes plays and the fact that Aron has heard of defense. But I was looking forward to a Jokic / Ayton matchup for sure. This will change the battle on the boards, as Baynes is not normally a top-flight rebounder, and it will provide a few more shots for others as Ayton took several more a game than I expect from Baynes.
It should be Denver’s goal to dominate the boards and run shooters off the three point line. We’ll see if it turns into a battle of the guards, with Denver’s looking to redeem themselves and Devin Booker not looking to pass to his center, but hopefully the Nuggets stick with their game plan - and Jokic doesn’t pick up early fouls.
Lewis: The Nuggets always seem to lose their minds when it comes to playing physical backup centers. I still have nightmares of Nikola Pekovic destroying them in years past. With Baynes likely to get the start, the Suns defense with the starting unit won’t drop off. Hopefully this just means that the bench has an easier time getting open looks at the rim, which should help the Nuggets easily win this game.
Mikash: Not a ton in my mind. As Gordon and Brandon pointed out, Jokic didn’t really have much trouble with Ayton so I don’t think there is a ton to be gained. However, the Suns aren’t exactly flush with depth at the center spot and now will likely go small with their bench unit so one spot where this does have a big effect in my opinion is Mason Plumlee. I won’t be shocked if Plumlee gets relatively few minutes and potentially even a DNP because the Suns are likely to run Frank Kaminsky out there as the backup center and might even go super small with Cheick Diallo at the five. That makes for a great opportunity to get some Jerami Grant minutes at center, which we saw a small sample of on opening night.
Do you expect Michael Porter Jr. to play tonight?
Ewing: No I do not, because it does not seem like he is currently in the rotation. One game is not going to change that and I think the Suns keep this game close, which means we could see a rotation similar to the one we saw in Portland.
Even if the Nuggets are blowing the Suns out, it does not feel like the time or place to make Porter Jr.’s debut in a 20-point blowout. I expect Porter’s debut to come in a game where he finally cracks the rotation and it is tough to see that being tonight.
Gross: Nope. Even in a blowout I don’t expect them to put him out there, though I suppose how big a blowout it is would make a difference. The home fans are salivating for an MPJ appearance but they’ll have to be patient and hopefully enjoy a win instead.
Lewis: I think he’ll play. It’s the home opener, and I expect the Nuggets to win this one going away. I think fans will be chanting for MPJ with a couple minutes left in the game, and it would be a fun opportunity to get him his first NBA minutes. He won’t play unless it’s a blowout, though, because Coach Malone has made it fairly obvious that he’s not part of the current rotation, which says a lot about how talented the 10-man rotation is.
Mikash: With Ayton out and the Suns bench unit likely going small I think there is a chance but I’m not counting on it. Coach has said he was going to give the group he picked to start the season a chance to prove they can win ball games. While I think he’s speaking mostly about the starters that thought process should apply to the full rotation. Torrey Craig and Will Barton didn’t do anything to hurt their stock in game one so no reason to think coach goes away from them in game two. I do actually think that it’s beneficial to get MPJ out there in some garbage time though. It will satiate the fans (for a day or two) and it’ll give Mike a chance to get out there and prove the preseason isn’t a fluke and make his case for minutes that much stronger.