The Denver Nuggets may meet their toughest test of the season so far against the Golden State Warriors. It’s the last game before the All-Star break which can evoke some relaxation, but they face the league’s second-best record in the Warriors which is anything but relaxing. After winning nine in a row, Golden State has found itself on a pre-All-Star losing skid. They’ve lost three of their last four and barely squeaked a win out at home versus the Lakers. The Nuggets have won four of their last five, but all have come against Eastern Conference opponents.

Denver has lost their last three games against the West and hold a 17-17 record in their conference. If the Nuggets are serious about contending for a championship, these are the statement games they need to win. Furthermore, if Denver wants Jokic to grab his second MVP, these wins will position him above Embiid and Antetokounmpo. Of course, it is easier said than done when you have to face a team with two of the best shooters ever along with a deep roster of talented role players.

The Basics

Who: Denver Nuggets (32-25, 16-15 away) @ Golden State Warriors (42-16, 26-5 home)

When: 8:00 PM MT

Where: Chase Center

How to watch/listen: NBA League Pass, Altitude TV (If you’re lucky enough), or 92.5 FM KKSE Altitude Sports Radio

Rival Blog: Golden State of Mind

Expected Starting Lineups:

GS: PG Steph Curry, SG Klay Thompson, SF Andrew Wiggins, PF Jonathan Kuminga, C Kevon Looney

DEN: PG Bones Hyland, SG Will Barton, SF Aaron Gordon, PF Jeff Green, C Nikola Jokic

Injuries: Monte Morris (day to day), Zeke Nnaji (day to day), Vlatko Cancar (out), Draymond Green (out), Andre Iguodala (out), James Wiseman (out)

Three Keys

Keep running

Both teams rank in the top half of the league in fast-break scoring, but the Nuggets are really pushing the pace lately. They are 5th in fast break scoring in their last five games, and in those games, they are 4-1. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it, so if this fast-paced mentality is working, let’s keep it going. Usually, the Nuggets like to play slow, but over this recent stretch, they rank 8th in pace. Since his entrance into the starting lineup, Bones has done an effective job at playing downhill on the fast break, and Aaron Gordon is another player they love to hand it to in transition. To play fast you often need to force missed shots or turnovers, so the defense will play a huge factor in Denver’s transition game.

Ball movement

These are two of the best ball movement teams in the league, so if you love team basketball this should be a great one to watch. Yes, Curry can be a one-man band at times, but his movement off the ball is unmatched, so whoever Denver decides to match him up with needs to get their running shoes ready. Over the course of the season, both teams are top five in assists. Golden State is second while Denver ranks 4th, and throughout their last ten games, the Nuggets have held that ranking. Gordon could be a key piece to this game as a cutter, and on the other side, Jonathan Kuminga is an electric athlete who cannot be ignored when he cuts inside.

Inside out basketball

The Nuggets do not have a Curry or a Thompson-type deep threat playing right now, so they need to scheme open shots. This is often done by getting the ball into the paint, which forces the defense to collapse resulting in an open shooter on the outside. The Warriors are excellent at these actions, but they also have the talent to make do without it. The Nuggets do not right now, so they need to create a threat inside so they can develop consistent open looks from deep. Once these looks are created, it is up to the Nuggets to capitalize which they have been doing of late. In their last ten, they are shooting 38% from three which is 5th in the league, but the Warriors are shooting 39.6% which ranks 3rd. Quality looks will be important for Denver to continue their hot shooting, but it likely will not be done without obtaining an inside presence.