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Preview: Nuggets head to Houston for pivotal game with Rockets

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The Nuggets have a chance to increase their lead over the Rockets on Thursday night, but that’s a tall order away from home

NBA: Houston Rockets at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets have a chance to push their lead over the Houston Rockets to five games with a road win on Thursday night. Doing so would also push the Rockets further behind the Portland Trail Blazers in the chase for the three-seed, an outcome that favors Denver should they remain where they are in the standings.

While Denver has gotten the better of Houston once this season, the Rockets were without their starting center Clint Capela, and at full-strength Houston is still a nightmare matchup for the Nuggets.

Winning in the Toyota Center is a tall order, but the Nuggets have an opportunity to take a large step towards securing a top-two seed on Thursday night.

The Basics

Who: Denver Nuggets (50-23) at Houston Rockets (47-28)

Where: Toyota Center, Houston, TX

When: 6:00 PM MT

How to watch: Altitude, NBA TV

Rival blog: The Dream Shake


Injury Report

Nuggets: Michael Porter Jr. - OUT (back)

Rockets: Kenneth Farieid - OUT (knee) , Eric Gordon - PROBABLE, Gerald Green - OUT (shoulder)


What to Watch

How will the Nuggets guard the pick-and-roll? It seems clear that trying to trap or pressure James Harden at the top won’t end well for Denver. He breaks that wall with ease and they’ve struggled to contain Clint Capela as he rolls downhill with a numerical advantage. They don’t have the personnel to simply switch either. Perhaps they drop and attempt to contain the lob, daring Harden to beat them as a scorer while they focus on containing Capela and limiting the corner threes. That’s easier said than done.

When the Nuggets did beat Houston in Denver, Capela wasn’t healthy. Denver still hasn’t solved the puzzle of a full strength Rockets team.

Consistency

Michael Malone has implored his team stay focused and consistent across four quarters lately. “You can’t get bored with success,” he told the media following the win over the Detroit Pistons on Monday night. There’s no easy fix for that problem. The Nuggets have a new baseline now—they’re not just capable of beating teams with a subpar effort, they know they are. They know they’re good enough to sleepwalk to victories over teams like the Knicks, but they also know they can beat anyone when they bring their A game, which is what they’ve done more often than not when facing the best teams in the NBA. They’ll need to play up and turn in a complete performance to beat the Rockets in Houston.

Jamal Murray

Murray got hot against Detroit in a way that we haven’t seen much of over the last couple of months. The game came easily to him and everything he threw up looked like it might go in. If Denver’s to be at their best, they need Murray at their best, and hopefully his performance against the Pistons gets him rolling at the right time. Jamal is the x-factor.