Sunday. Generally, today is reserved for football during the fall and early winter season, but the Denver Nuggets have found some success on Sunday. Their first Sunday contest occurred against the Minnesota Timberwolves on the road, which they won in overtime on a Nikola Jokic turnaround jumper over Karl-Anthony Towns. The following Sunday, Denver won in blowout fashion against the Memphis Grizzlies with Jamal Murray dropping 39 points. Two weeks ago, the Nuggets won handily against a Phoenix Suns team that couldn’t compete with Denver’s depth on the second night of a back-to-back.
Today, the Nuggets are on the road once again, matching up with the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center as they stay on the east coast. Three days ago, the Nuggets trounced the New York Knicks. Friday, Denver was basically trounced by the Boston Celtics. Now, it’s Brooklyn up next, a dangerous team even without three of their top players suiting up.
Who: Denver Nuggets (14-6) at Brooklyn Nets (12-10)
When: 1:00 PM MST
Where: Barclays Center | Brooklyn, New York
How to watch/listen: Altitude TV and KKSE Altitude Radio 92.5 FM
Rival Blog: Nets Daily
Nuggets: Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Will Barton, Paul Millsap, Nikola Jokic
Nets: Spencer Dinwiddie, Garrett Temple, Joe Harris, Taurean Prince, Jarrett Allen
Injured players: Kevin Durant - Out (achilles), Kyrie Irving - Day to Day (shoulder), Caris LeVert - Out (thumb)
Key matchup: Nikola Jokic vs Jarrett Allen
The last time these two teams played, Jokic had an opportunity to genuinely assert himself in that contest. His aggressiveness was fine with him putting up 14 shots, but the Nets are a team that Jokic puts up high point totals against when he’s turned up to an 11 on the scoring dial. Jokic had point totals of 37 and 25 last year against Brooklyn, as well as 41 and 21 the year before. The Nets generally play small with one big in the middle of the floor, and that’s the look Jokic will see today. If he so chose, he could probably take 20+ shots tonight and go for 30+, but lately, it’s hard to tell whether he feels comfortable going that route offensively.
On the other side, the player type Jokic generally struggles with defensively is “rim roller who can jump over him against a spaced floor.” Last time these two teams played, Allen had 17 points and 10 rebounds while matched up mainly with Jokic. Spencer Dinwiddie is a solid passer that has a penchant for getting downhill in the pick and roll, so lobs and offensive rebounding opportunities will be available. That’s not all on Jokic to guard, but he must be thinking about it to prevent as many easy looks as possible.
Key thing to watch for: Jamal Murray — Sunday killer
During the first three Sunday games this season, Murray is averaging 25.3 points, 4.3 assists, and 57.8% True Shooting. Had he not been knocked out briefly from the T’Wolves game, those numbers would look even more impressive. Murray was 1-for-11 from the field the last time these two teams played, and though he impacted the game in other ways, the Nuggets could use Sunday Murray at the game today. He could genuinely help Denver take care of business here, and after a subpar performance in Boston, he will want to bounce back.
Opening thought: 20 games in, this team isn’t right
The offense has been off kilter. Various players are going through ruts. Nikola Jokic has gone through an extended cold streak. Michael Porter Jr. continues to tease fans with his shot making and infuriate the coaching staff with basically everything else. More than anything, the vibe is different at the quarter mark this year than in any I have been around the team before. These aren’t your bright-eyed, bushy-tailed Nuggets of yesteryear. They have goals and aspirations for more than goodness and have gone all in on defense to get there.
Whether that strategy is the right course of action remains to be seen. Of the last ten NBA champions, seven of ten have finished top five in offensive rating, while six of ten have finished top five in defensive rating. Teams can be successful in various ways, and it’s possible that the Nuggets can commit to defense and eventually realize their championship dream.
But what’s for certain is that every NBA champion since 2012-13 has finished fifth or higher in offensive rating during their respective championship seasons. It is now a requirement to be an elite offense, to have the capacity to execute under pressure no matter the circumstance.
The Nuggets are almost as far away from an elite offense as they have EVER been in the Michael Malone era, and it’s not just because the Nuggets are missing shots. The Nuggets continue to eschew the three-point shot, ranking 27th in frequency and 23rd in accuracy, according to Cleaning the Glass. A team that can’t shoot is dead in the water, and the Nuggets are a quarter of the way through the season. They still can’t shoot. Teams that can’t shoot don’t win rings anymore.
Let’s see if they can right the ship.