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Film Friday: Possible Playoff Previews

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Dallas Mavericks Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

If you’re not familiar with Film Fridays, each Friday, I’ll be looking at some recent Denver Nuggets’ games, lineups or something else from a film aspect to try and bring you a piece of content that you’re not getting somewhere else. Feel free to give any feedback positive or negative in the comments or find me on Twitter.

Welcome back to another edition of the Film Friday series. Since I started doing these every week a little over two months ago, this was the hardest I struggled to come up with a topic. That mainly comes down to just a sheer lack of NBA content that we have to work with. However, I eventually came up with something. With the NBA discussing getting the season back underway, I took a look at a few possible playoff matchups for Denver.

I wanted to see what teams they could draw, and how they would likely fair against those teams. Denver has a record of 15-11 against teams with a record of .500 or better on the year, which is tied for the third-best mark in the Western Conference. Every team they go against in the playoffs will be of that caliber. It’s going to be huge for them to hit the ground running when they get things going again. There are likely four possible opponents with all of them within four games of each other in the standings.

Utah Jazz

Denver has struggled a ton against the Jazz on the road in the last few years, but they got that monkey off their back in February when they beat them with an extremely truncated rotation. One thing that was working for them all game was getting Rudy Gobert out into open space. On this particular play, Nikola Jokic catches the ball heading to the right wing. Gobert has the size to bother most shots, but, because of Jokic’s high release, he gets the shot off with ease.

Another option they had good success with was running the pick and roll with Gobert. Denver would force him to switch onto a guard, and they just don’t have the size to counter him when he’s rolling towards the rim. He’s great on pull-up shots, and he was particularly on that night. If they can steal just one game on the road, this should be a series they can handle.

Oklahoma City Thunder

Denver has split the two games they’ve played against the fifth-seeded Thunder to this point in the season. Jokic has been his usual dominant self by leading the team in the three major categories, but he needs some help. One of those players that can help him needs to be Jamal Murray. Murray can put up points in bunches when he’s feeling it, and, against the Thunder, he was living in the mid-range. On this play, he goes in, but he reassesses and sees that he needs to generate extra space. His spin move into a fadeaway is borderline undguardable.

Murray has an uncanny knack for knowing when he has enough space to get his shot off. It doesn’t take him long to make that decision. He’s cutting through the lane here, and he sees a spot just outside of the paint. As soon as he sees it, he beelines for that spot, and rises up to knock down another shot. OKC is often willing to sacrifice mid-range looks, and Denver has multiple shooters that live in that area. Denver has the size advantage at a few positions, and they’ll need to take advantage of that to come out of the series with a win.

Houston Rockets

The Rockets have been a difficult matchup for the Nuggets over the last few years. One big thing that gives them trouble with this particular team is the athleticism and play style of Russell Westbrook. He has a size advantage over both Gary Harris and Jamal Murray, and he can force his way to the rim. Torrey Craig took him on successfully earlier this year, but it’s not a long-term option for an entire game.

A major key for Denver to be successful in a full series against Houston would be the presence of Jokic. After trading away Clint Capela at the trade deadline, their tallest starters are Danuel House and Robert Covington, who both come in at just 6’7.” If Denver can keep the game close, they can allow him to bully them inside. That would force Houston to slow down their pace of play and change their entire game plan.

Dallas Mavericks

Similar to how they struggle with Westbrook, they also struggle with Luka Dončić because of his size. Luka isn’t the fastest guy on the floor, but he can use his size to get an advantage and score as a result. At the end of a close game, you have Harris on him. That’s arguably your best defender on the floor, and Luka blows right by him for the bucket. Whether it’s on the perimeter or inside, they need to find a better answer for him.

Everyone was hoping for the bounce back this season from Harris. We wanted to see the 3-and-D wing that started to break out three years ago. Instead, we’ve seen him struggle with consistency. In this game, he knocks down a big 3-point shot. Those are the plays that make all the difference. When he’s hitting, the floor opens up for everyone else. Dallas allowed him to get those opportunities. If he can get them off, the workload gets a lot easier for everyone else.

For those of you that are still here, remember to leave your feedback in the comments or over on my Twitter, and have a fantastic film-filled Friday.