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Preview: Nuggets labor on with matchup against Rockets

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There aren’t any breaks in the schedule, as the Nuggets host the Rockets Saturday night after another injury to a key player.

Oklahoma City Thunder v Denver Nuggets Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images

The hits just don’t stop coming to the 2020-21 Denver Nuggets.

The last time the Nuggets played the Warriors, their star point guard Jamal Murray suffered a torn ACL in the closing minute of the game. The injury cost Murray not just the remainder of this season, but will likely cause him to miss most of the next season as well. Last night, in the first minute of the game, Nuggets swingman Will Barton pulled up limping, falling to the court and holding his right hamstring.

Love him or hate him, there is no denying that Barton fills a key role for the Nuggets. With his ability to initiate the offense, shoot, defend and rebound, he is a jack-of-all-trades for Denver, filling in wherever the coaching staff needs him. Hopefully the injury is nothing serious, but with how this season is progressing, I’m prepared for bad news.

The schedule doesn’t just pause for the Nuggets to get healthy though — they have to immediately get ready for tonight’s game against the Rockets. They’re going to need more players to step up and into different roles, and find a way to continue on without Barton.

The Basics

Who: Houston Rockets (15-45) vs Denver Nuggets (38-21)

Where: Ball Arena, Denver, Colorado

When: 8:00 MDT

How to Watch: Altitude, limited in person seating

Rival Blog: The Dream Shake

Projected Lineups

Rockets vs Nuggets

POS HOU DEN EDGE
POS HOU DEN EDGE
PG John Wall Facu Campazzo Rockets
SG Armoni Brooks P.J. Dozier Nuggets
SF Jae'Sean Tate Michael Porter Jr. Nuggets
PF Kelly Olynyk Aaron Gordon Nuggets
C Christian Wood Nikola Jokic Nuggets
BENCH Danuel House Jr., Kenyon Martin Jr., D.J. Wilson, Daquan Jeffries Shaq Harrison, Austin Rivers, JaMychal Green, Paul Millsap, JaVale McGee Nuggets

Three Things to Watch

New roles for new players. Shaq Harrison has played well in the few minutes he’s been given in a Nuggets jersey, and Austin Rivers hit a clutch 3-pointer against the Trail Blazers to help pick up a win. P.J. Dozier received the bulk of the minutes after Barton left the game, and I think he’ll be the guy the coaching staff tabs with filling Barton’s shoes in the starting lineup. Dozier isn’t nearly the scoring threat that Barton was, and in a season where he’s had to fill a lot of different roles, needs to get up to speed on his new responsibilities fast. Rivers and Harrison have to not just learn the names of their new teammates, they need to learn the playbook so they can help guide the second unit now. This is what they get paid to do — complaining about it won’t make it any easier. It’s going to take some time, and Nuggets fans will need to show a little patience as the team prepares for the playoffs.

Win with defense. The new-look Nuggets didn’t expect the season to ever look like this. A team that already needed more scorers is now without two of their most talented options. But what Denver can try to do now is slow down the pace, play really sound defense, and get into a slugfest on offense. Jokic is still on pace to be the league MVP, and has the talent to lead the Nuggets to games where they can score over 100 points through sheer grit and determination. The ball isn’t going to be popping any time soon with so many guards out, but there’s still a path forward for the Nuggets to maneuver their way into wins.

Pick up a win. It’s going to be much more difficult to get wins over good teams if Barton is out for a long time. There are only 13 more games left, and the Nuggets still haven’t locked up a postseason berth. They need to get a win tonight to help make their path a little easier.

Prediction

Denver Nuggets 105 - Houston Rockets 103.