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Preview: Denver Nuggets try to recapture secret sauce against Houston Rockets

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Do the Nuggets have what it takes to keep up with the Rockets

Denver Nuggets vs. Houston Rockets Photo by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images

The Denver Nuggets two games against the Houston Rockets this season have been two different stories. In their first meeting (in Denver) the Nuggets stifled and confused James Harden with consistent yet seemingly random traps which led the Nuggets to a 105-95 win. The second matchup (in Houston) didn’t go nearly as well. The Rockets fed Harden the ball and he had a strong night along with Russell Westbrook to ultimately a earn a blowout victory over Denver.

Tonight the challenge is even greater for the Nuggets. Paul Millsap, Mason Plumlee and Jamal Murray have already been determined to be out for this game while Gary Harris is doubtful. The Nuggets have been weathering the injury storm fairly well thus far but not having Harris to throw at either Westbrook or Harden while Torrey Craig takes the other is tough. Will Barton likely will have to step up to the challenge big time on defense if the Nuggets are to come away with a victory.

The Basics

Who: Denver Nuggets (30-13) at Houston Rockets (26-16)

When: 6:00PM MST

Where: Toyota Center. Houston, TX.

How to watch/listen: Altitude TV and KKSE Altitude Radio 92.5FM

Rival Blog: The Dream Shake

Projected Matchups

Position Denver Nuggets Utah Jazz Advantage
Position Denver Nuggets Utah Jazz Advantage
PG Monte Morris Mike Conley Jazz
SG Torrey Craig Donovan Mitchell Jazz
SF Michael Porter Jr. Royce O'Neale Nuggets
PF Paul Millsap Joe Ingles Even
C Nikola Jokic Rudy Gobert Nuggets
Bench PJ Dozier, Keita Bates-Diop, Jerami Grant, Bol Bol, Mason Plumlee Emmanuel Mudiay, Jordan Clarkson, Georges Niang, Tony Bradley Even

Injured players: Gary Harris - doubtful (adductor), Jamal Murray - out (ankle), Paul Millsap - out (knee), Bol Bol - out (foot), Mason Plumlee - out (cuboid), Gerald Green - out (cuneiform)

Key matchup: Nikola Jokic vs Clint Capela

Houston Rockets v Denver Nuggets Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images

The Nuggets might need Joker to play all 48 tonight as they have no backup center to speak of. Without Millsap they also are going to have a hard time sliding over Jerami Grant to the five because he needs to occupy so many of Millsap’s minutes at the four. One thing is for sure, we’re getting a whole lot of Nikola v Clint in this one tonight. That of course is not great for the Nuggets as Capela is probably the player Joker struggles to most to defend. It’s not so much that Capela overmatches Jokic (he doesn’t) but the way the Rockets use him and how hard he rolls on the pick and roll makes it tough for Joker to keep up. The Rockets are the kings of getting the defense to switch the exact player they want onto Harden and against the Nuggets that player is Jokic. Denver needs Jokic to not only contain Capela on the defensive end but also to dominate him on the offensive end. Without a big performance from Joker it’s hard to see the Nuggets winning this one.

Key thing to watch for: this rotation is gonna be wild

The Nuggets are without three starters and both backup centers tonight and that’s going to make things get really interesting. Coach Michael Malone has gone with Craig, Grant and Monte Morris as the starter replacements and I expect that to continue but how many minutes some like Grant or Michael Porter Jr. gets and at what spot on the floor is changed drastically by Plumlee’s absence. This could even be a scenario where Jarred Vanderbilt finds some time playing the backup five. Houston also is going to run with P.J. Tucker at center for some of the game as well so this could end up being a matchup of who can play the better small ball.

Opening thought: have to give yourself a chance

The Nuggets will have one more crack at Houston after tonight and that will be this weekend when the teams meet again in Denver. Obviously, it doesn’t look great for Denver with so many players out and on the road against the team they struggle with the most but a win tonight would be massive. Above all else it would guarantee the Nuggets don’t lose the head to head tiebreaker with Houston which could come into play in playoff seeding. Maybe more importantly, taking two losses to the Rockets this week would be pretty demoralizing after it looked like Denver was onto something in regards to the Rockets after that first win. While the game this weekend may be the better chance for the Nuggets to get a W, a win tonight would arguably be the best win of the season.