The Denver Nuggets host the Memphis Grizzlies in one of the more important games of the season so far. The Grizzlies opened the eye of the entire NBA landscape with their excellent play to begin the season. Many did not pick them to be a top-4 seed in the West, but their 31-16 record has them firmly in the 3rd spot and only 2.5 games back of the second-seeded Warriors. Their superstar point guard Ja Morant is poised for his first All-Star appearance, and his 24.7 PPG along with 6.9 assists cannot be ignored in the MVP discussion. Although the Nuggets are 3-1 on this homestand, they do face a Grizzlies group who has a 14-7 record on the road.

Speaking of this homestand, the Nuggets appeared to have found their offense of late. They have scored 130+ points in three of their last four after eclipsing 130 points just once all season. Nikola Jokic is also fresh off one of his best performances and possibly one of the best Nugget performances of all time. His 49 points, 14 rebounds, and 10 assists was only the second time in NBA history a center recorded a 45+ point triple-double in a win. It was a signature performance he needed to increase his MVP odds, but Morant is in the rearview mirror and the Grizzlies are hungry to snatch a win away from a confident Nuggets team.

The Basics

Who: Denver Nuggets (23-20, 12-8 home) vs Memphis Grizzlies (31-16, 14-7 away)

When: 7:00 PM MT

Where: Ball Arena

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

Rival Blog: Grizzly Bear Blues

Expected Starting Lineups:

MEM: PG Ja Morant, SG John Konchar, SF Ziaire Williams, PF Jaren Jackson Jr., C Steven Adams

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

Injuries: JaMychal Green (out), Vlatko Cancar (out), Dillon Brooks (out), Tyus Jones (out), Desmond Bane (out), Kyle Anderson (out), Killian Tillie (out)

Three Keys

Dominate the paint

This is a crucial factor in tonight’s affair because Memphis scores the most points in the paint per game. They score 60 PITP overall but on the road, they also rank #1 by scoring 52.7 paint points. Ja Morant is a massive factor in that. His game is predicated by his extreme athleticism and his determination to finish amongst the trees inside. He is one of the best, most acrobatic finishers in the paint, but he also has the effortless passing ability to kick it out to open shooters. The Nuggets are not a top-scoring team in the paint but in their last four, they are averaging about 54 points in that area. When the two teams matched up in early November, they both split the paint battle in those two games but the Nuggets struggled from three in each of those games. So dominate the paint to collapse the defense, but when shooters are open they need to convert.

Do not turn the ball over

This becomes increasingly important when facing a team like the Grizzlies. They are 5th in points off turnovers at 18 a game but they also rank 3rd in fast-break points with 14 per game. This is a team that loves to play fast and downhill and if they are given frequent turnovers, they will capitalize with their speed and strength to finish in transition. In their last matchup, the Grizzlies beat Denver by two but they acquired 21 points off Denver turnovers. In the Nuggets' last four games, two of them have been with double-digit turnovers and two below double digits. If they can keep the turnovers in single digits tonight, they will be able to prevent Memphis from capitalizing in one of their favorite categories.

Limit their exciting plays

This also relates to hindering their fast break play, but the Grizzlies are a young, energetic group and when they start to complete the flashy lobs, their energy on both ends starts to explode. Ja Morant is a walking highlight with every game, so it is bound to happen but if it starts to get excessive, that is when the 14-0 runs begin to happen. When these type of runs happen, the Nuggets often lose games. Denver is often a highlight team themselves so if they can’t stop it, they need to match it and get the Ball Arena crowd to their feet. That crowd played such a significant factor in Wednesday’s game against the Clippers and it should again tonight.