Denver Nuggets games this week:
Monday, 12/23: Nuggets @ Phoenix Suns (11-18)
The Phoenix Suns have lost six games in a row and 14 of their last 18 games. Two of the wins came against the Minnesota Timberwolves, while one was against the New Orleans Pelicans, and one was against the Charlotte Hornets. In other words, the Suns are back to being bad. Last time, the Nuggets caught the Suns with Ricky Rubio and Aron Baynes out due to injury. Thus, Denver meandered their way to a despondent 12-point victory. The Suns already ruled out Deandre Ayton, and Rubio is questionable. Anything can happen on a back-to-back, but the Nuggets should try to inflict a blow out early.
Wednesday, 12/25: Nuggets vs New Orleans Pelicans (7-23)
One of New Orleans’ seven wins are against these Denver Nuggets, but that was a different time, and these teams are in vastly different spaces now. The Pelicans have lost 14 of their last 15 games, including Friday night to the 6-24 Golden State Warriors (woof). Brandon Ingram and Jrue Holiday each scored 25 points, but the rest of the roster has completely faded. The Nuggets should roll on Christmas night. It will be more surprising if they don’t.
Saturday, 12/28: Nuggets vs Memphis Grizzlies (11-19)
The last time these two teams played, Jamal Murray had 39 points in three quarters of play, and the Nuggets were up by 33 points early in the third quarter. The Grizzlies have won five of their last eight games though and are seemingly turning things around. Ja Morant is averaging 18.2 points and 6.6 assists per game and has the make-up of a future star. Brandon Clarke (my favorite prospect in last year’s draft) is averaging a 69.6 TS% while taking more than half of his shots from outside the restricted area, which is unprecedented. Still, this is a team Denver should beat.
Sunday, 12/29: Nuggets vs Sacramento Kings (12-17)
Another Saturday-Sunday home back-to-back. Denver won the previous instance of this two weeks ago, and they will have incentive to try against the Kings after Sacramento upset them a few weeks ago. De’Aaron Fox is back in the starting lineup next to Buddy Hield and Harrison Barnes. Unfortunately for Kings fans, Marvin Bagley has yet to return from his long term injury. Still, Richaun Holmes will start at center for the Kings, and he has dominated the last two games against Nikola Jokic, Mason Plumlee, and the rest of the Nuggets roster. Now that Jokic is back to being engaged, Holmes may be in trouble.
Injury Report: Paul Millsap remains banged up
After sitting out a couple games to start the home stand, Millsap returned and has performed strongly over the past three games, culminating in an efficient scoring performance against Anthony Davis and the Los Angeles Lakers last night. Millsap was questionable for Sunday though, and it remains to be seen if the Nuggets will play Millsap on both ends of a back-to-back. If he does sit, it will be precautionary though.
Nuggets bet of the week: OVER vs New Orleans on Christmas
It almost seems like malpractice to bet on Christmas given Denver hasn’t played a Christmas day game in six years. Assuming Denver treats it just like any other game though, they can take solace in the fact that the Pelicans have one of the worst defenses in the NBA. Derrick Favors is back in the starting lineup and should give an engaged Jokic more problems than Jahlil Okafor or Jaxson Hayes, but the rest of the Pelicans roster isn’t built to defend Denver either. Jrue Holiday will probably guard Jamal Murray, but that means JJ Redick is guarding Will Barton or Gary Harris. I expect Denver to put up a big sum.
Nuggets DFS play of the week: Jamal Murray vs Memphis on Saturday
The play I advertised last week was Murray vs Minnesota, and he put up 28 points on 19 shots while filling up the box score. I think playing Murray is once again wise this week. It just depends on which game. Tomorrow vs the Suns is a good option, especially if Rubio sits, but let’s go with the safe option instead. Morant is talented, but he’s still a rookie, and Murray roasted him and the rest of the Grizzlies last time these teams faced. There’s no reason to expect a massively different outcome this time around.
Spotlight on: Finding the footing on offense
The last two weeks have been kind to Denver’s offensive rating. During the six game win streak, the Nuggets have turned on the jets and are averaging 119.3 points per 100 possessions, best in the NBA over the Houston Rockets and Milwaukee Bucks. Denver has faced on easy competition lately, but last night, they took a strong Lakers defense behind the woodshed and pounded them into submission.
During that same stretch, the Nuggets have maintained the 10th best defensive rating as well, so it’s not impossible for this team to excel on both ends at once. They might need to favor one or the other at any given time, but it’s definitely possible to play both ways. Right now, the Nuggets are 13th in offense and 2nd in defense on the season, and that formula can earn them a deep playoff run as long as they can create solid offense no matter what. If they are entirely reliant on their defense, they will eventually falter to a team that has the formula to best the Nuggets with Jokic at center. Denver must continue to cultivate their team offense going forward. It has allowed them the wiggle room defensively they didn’t have before.
This week, the Nuggets will be facing the 17th, 20th, 23rd, and 27th ranked defenses, so there are plenty of opportunities for the offense to maintain their collective hot streak. I’m looking forward to seeing if Denver can keep their foot and the gas and let this streak continue for as long as they can. There’s a legitimate opportunity for the Nuggets to have their first double-digit win streak of the Michael Malone era by the end of the 2019 calendar.