What matchup are you watching the closest in this series?
Tommy Knowlton (@TommyKnow303): I will be watching Nikola Jokic versus the Golden State Warriors. It will be interesting to see how Steve Kerr wants to defend Jokic. He knows if he leaves Looney on him, Jokic will be feasting all day, but that might be the game-plan to suppress his passing ability. They could also go small and put Draymond at the five guarding Jokic. If they send double teams, they are daring Denver’s role players to shoot; if not, they will let Jokic eat and force the role players into tougher shots.
Asher Levy (@asherlevynba): I am watching Bones Hyland and Jordan Poole. Both are young guards with a lot of shot creation and making in their games. Poole is in contention for Most Improved Player and Bones Hyland is in contention to make an all-rookie team. Neither are particularly good defenders so it will be interesting to see who comes out on top for their teams’ bench.
Brandon Ewing (@B_Skip1717): The matchup I’m looking forward to watching is Austin Rivers against Steph Curry. In the previous matchups between the Nuggets and Warriors this season, Rivers has done a pretty solid job of slowing down Curry. The competitive nature in which Rivers plays with helps him a ton against Curry as he truly does not back down to one of the best players in the world.
It would take some adjustment to the Nuggets starting lineup as Rivers would most likely take Will Barton’s spot in Denver’s starting five. I wouldn’t expect it to happen in game one, but by the time game two or three rolls around I could see Michael Malone making a switch. It also would not surprise me one bit if Rivers closed games for Denver, which could happen as early as game one on Saturday night.
Who is the biggest threat to the Nuggets outside of Stephen Curry?
Knowlton: I think it is Klay Thompson just because of his play lately. He got off to a slow start, but he has been scorching hot. In his last five games, he averaged 29.6 points on 42% from three. He is knocking down about five threes a game during that span, and not to mention, he has championship pedigree. He knows how to execute in high-pressure situations, and he seems to have found his shooting stroke of late. If Curry and Thompson can revive their three-point marksmanship from years ago, the Nuggets are in deep, deep trouble.
Levy: The biggest threat outside of Steph really depends on defensive match ups. If Will Barton ends up guarding Klay Thompson, I’d probably have to pick Klay. Will has not been a good defender for most of the season and has been a clear negative on that end as of late. His screen navigation has left a lot to desire and Klay Thompson’s main source of scoring is coming off of screens and letting it fly. If Klay’s match up is not Will then I’d say Jordan Poole. Denver’s bench doesn’t have many good defenders and Jordan Poole pours in points when he gets going. Against the bench’s drop coverage and lack of perimeter containment, he will for sure have the opportunity to get going.
Ewing: Jordan Poole and I’m not sure there’s a close second to be honest. The Nuggets second unit — minus Rivers — doesn’t have anyone who can slow down Poole, who is a walking flamethrower. In three games against the Nuggets this season, Poole averaged 22.7 points per game and shot 60 percent from beyond the three-point line. If the Nuggets want to be successful in this series they have to compete in the minutes Nikola Jokic is off the floor, which just so happens to be the times Poole will be on the floor. If the Nuggets let Poole get going, it’s going to be a long series.
Who is the biggest X-Factor for Denver in this series?
Knowlton: Aaron Gordon is the x-factor just because of what he brings on both ends of the floor. He has so many responsibilities on this team, and those burdens will be at an all-time high for him in this series. He can’t just execute on one side of the floor for the Nuggets to beat the Warriors. He has to produce offensively, or the Nuggets won't have enough offensive firepower to keep up with Golden State.
Levy: Denver’s biggest x-factor in this series is going to be Bones Hyland. Bones has looked really good for the past couple of months, and if the Nuggets are going to tread water when Nikola Jokic sits for short stints, they’re going to need Bones’ scoring and playmaking off the bench. It’s a lot of pressure for a rookie to have but he is going to play a big role in any potential success that the Nuggets may have.
Ewing: I’ll go with Aaron Gordon here. Gordon is going to play a massive role on both ends of the floor for Denver as he will not only be tasked with scoring the ball, but will have to attempt to try and slow down Klay Thompson as well. Gordon has really find his groove as a scorer over the last month of the season and has become almost unstoppable when he drives to the basket. As long as Gordon continues with that drive first mentality, he should have a pretty solid series offensively.
As far as defense goes, slowing down Thompson will be much harder than it was say two months ago as he finally looks to be back to full strength after missing the past two seasons. Thompson has been on a tear as of late and is someone if you let heat up there’s no going back from that.
If Denver wins this series, it will be because they dominated in what area of the game?
Knowlton: It will be because Denver dominated guarding the perimeter. Some forget that the Warriors are a top-three defensive unit, so I do not expect the Nuggets to flourish offensively. They just have too much offensive firepower compared to Denver, thus the Nugget's defense is the most important factor in this series. Gordon will have to be excellent defensively, Barton will have to concentrate on rotations and closeouts, and Rivers could be the defensive x-factor on their guards. If the Nuggets can contain the Warrior offense, they have the advantage inside and could win some games via good defense and paint production.
Levy: I think one area that the Nuggets will have to dominate in order to win is rebounding. When the Nuggets rebound it makes their lives a lot easier, but they don’t tend to rebound with a lot of urgency outside of Nikola Jokic. They allow a lot of second chance points in some games and they can’t do that against the Warriors. Giving Steph Curry and Klay Thompson another chance to shoot is defensive malpractice. They’ll need to box out and jump high to get boards.
Ewing: The minutes in which Jokic is off the floor. I have zero doubt the Nuggets can compete with Golden State when #15 is on the court, it’s just the minutes he’s not that are worrisome. Denver is probably going to ask Jokic to play just a tick under 40 minutes a night — which is something I think he could do — but what happens in those other eight minutes? Denver has to weather the storm when their superstar big man is off the floor because if they don’t it will make his life even more difficult.
Prediction: Who wins the series and in how many games?
Knowlton: The only reason I’m not taking the Warriors in five is that I think Jokic can steal two games with some MVP performances. That being said, it’s Warriors in six. Curry, Thompson, and Green will all be on the floor together, and we all know what happens when that trio is in uniform. They are expected to win championships. With all Denver’s injuries, they are not expected to win a championship, and without a healthy Murray and MPJ, Denver does not have enough scoring or defense to beat Golden State.
Levy: I’m going to go ahead and take the team with the best player in Nikola Jokic. I think that he will be able to carry the Nuggets to a series win in 7 games. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Nuggets lose in 6 or 7 as it should be a close series. However, the Warriors don’t have an answer for Jokic and he elevates his play in the playoffs. He is going to get whatever he wants in the playoffs and will probably pick the Warriors apart. He will need another two or three players to play up to a playoff standard, but I think that Will Barton, Aaron Gordon, and Bones Hyland will all have the capability to do that. The Warriors will give the Nuggets a tough time on defense so the Nuggets will just have to outscore them.
Ewing: I hope the Nuggets prove me wrong here, but I’m going to take the Warriors in five games. I feel like it will be hard for the Nuggets to steal a game at Golden State and the Warriors will steal one while they are in Denver.