Denver Nuggets games this week:
Tuesday, 12/10: Nuggets @ Philadelphia 76ers (17-7)
This is a rematch Nuggets fans had circled on the calendar before Denver began dealing with more pressing issues. The Nuggets have lost four of their last five games, including two in which they lost focus against inferior opponents and two in which they appeared outmatched strong squads for various reasons. This game would fall under the second category if Denver were to lose, and there should be no doubt that Joel Embiid is looking for revenge after Nikola Jokic hit a game winner the last time around.
Thursday, 12/12: Nuggets vs Portland Trail Blazers (9-15)
The return of Carmelo Anthony to Pepsi Center, an arena in which he has never won as an opponent. Not once in the eight seasons since Denver sent him to New York. Both the Blazers and Nuggets are in drastically different places as teams since meeting in the season opener on national TV. We will see if Denver defends Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum better than the last time they stepped foot in Pepsi Center.
Saturday, 12/14: Nuggets vs Oklahoma City Thunder (10-12)
This is the week of returns apparently as Danilo Gallinari is set to return to Denver as a member of the Thunder after his inclusion as part of the Paul George trade to the Los Angeles Clippers. This season, Gallinari is averaging 18.2 points per game on 44.9/41.8/92.1 shooting splits, so he’s still got some juice as a scorer. Don’t be surprised if Gallinari is moved to a playoff contender if the Thunder fall out of the playoff race.
Sunday, 12/15: Nuggets vs New York Knicks (4-19)
The Nuggets get back-to-back weeks of facing the worst team in basketball. The New York Knicks come to town on a Sunday the day after Denver’s game against OKC. Even though it’s a back-to-back, the Nuggets should roll here, having beat the Knicks by 37 points at Madison Square Garden already, leading to former head coach David Fizdale’s unceremonious firing the next day.
Injury Report: None
The Nuggets have been one of the healthiest teams in the entire NBA this year, if not the healthiest. Save for a two-game absence from Will Barton, none of Denver’s starters have missed any games, nor have Monte Morris, Jerami Grant, or Mason Plumlee off the bench. Even though Denver’s rotation is stacked, they haven’t had the opportunity to take advantage of their depth since very few total games have been missed due to injury. It wouldn’t surprise me if Denver eventually starts to rest players forcibly, as playing every single game may prove to be unhealthy for Denver’s eventual playoff prospects.
Nuggets bet of the week: Nuggets and the points vs Oklahoma City
The last time the Thunder won against the Nuggets at Pepsi Center was in April of 2017 when Russell Westbrook accumulated his record-breaking triple double, scored 50 points, and drained a buzzer beater over Jamal Murray. Ever since then, the Thunder have never won in Denver, and Murray has taken it upon himself to beat the Thunder every single time, averaging 20.3 points and shooting 47.8% from three in those games. The Nuggets always get up for the Thunder, and Saturday should be no different.
Nuggets DFS play of the week: Nikola Jokic vs Portland on Thursday
If Jokic hadn’t accumulated three fouls in four minutes to begin the season opener, he may have dominated more than he did. Still, he scored 20 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in just under 24 minutes of action that night, and there’s no reason why another great performance can’t be had. With Carmelo Anthony in the starting lineup and very little defensive resistance outside of Hassan Whiteside, expect Jokic to score many points and grab many rebounds, maybe even cracking 10 assists along the way.
Spotlight on: Attacking the rim
Last week, I spoke about Nikola Jokic’s November splits, and in the four games that followed, Jokic transitioned from passive fulcrum in the first two games to aggressive scorer in the next two. Here’s hoping Nikola Jokic appreciates the Nuggets are better when he’s at his best.
This week, it’s time to discuss Denver’s scoring at the rim. It’s horrible.
With Jokic starting at center, the Nuggets have never been a dominant team at the rim. Jokic generally draws defenders away from the rim with his in-between game and allows others to attack using back cuts, slashes, and fast break opportunities. Those have all but disappeared this season, with the Nuggets attempting just over 33 percent of their shots at the rim, according to Cleaning the Glass. That number ranks 25th in the NBA and pales in comparison to strong offenses like Brooklyn, Los Angeles, and Toronto, who attempt over 40 percent of their shots right around the hoop.
That seven percent margin makes all of the difference in efficiency throughout the season, as Denver attempts more of their shots in the midrange than all but three teams: San Antonio, Golden State, and Indiana. None of those offenses are elite, and for good reason. They can’t generate shots in the most efficient spots on the floor, and it’s hurting the overall product.
So, watch for Denver to try attacking the rim a bit more this week. It will be difficult against the Sixers, but against the Blazers, Thunder, and Knicks, the rim should be Denver’s best friend. Lure the rim protectors away from their comfort zone and attack the restricted area behind them. Jokic will need to shoot competently from the perimeter to accomplish this, but I have a feeling his three-pointer will come around shortly.