Nuggets set out for a road back-to-back, first stop Memphis

The mission for the Nuggets tonight in Memphis? Keep on winning the games you are supposed to win on paper. Thus far Denver is 18-1 against sub .500 teams and will be looking to hand the Memphis Grizzlies (11-32) their 10th straight loss.

Memphis’ latest Head Coach Lionel Hollins makes his third debut as the Grizzlies head coach tonight, but this time he will be without the “interim” label as he rejoins the Grizzlies after leaving his assistant job with the Milwaukee Bucks. Hollins’ combined coaching record from his previous stints with the Grizzlies is 18-46 … Denver will look to add number 47 to that.

Hollins replaces Marc Iavaroni who was hired away from the Phoenix Suns just a year ago – very short leashes in the NBA today. I got the impression from reading Jack McCallum’s book “:07 Seconds or Less” that Iavaroni was a key clog in the Suns success and that he had a bright future in the NBA as a head coach. Recently Mike D’Antoni came to his former assistant’s defense and still believes Iavaroni will land on his feet somewhere else. Don’t forget that it was D’Antoni who was unceremoniously fired from Denver and later found his calling with a more veteran team with Steve Nash in Phoenix.

Iavaroni was tasked with coaching a team whose starters are barely old enough to order a drink legally at the bars here in the States, sans Darrell Arthur who is only 20 years-old. But looking at this Memphis starting lineup there is vast potential for this team to grow together: point guard Mike Conley (21), shooting guard O.J. Mayo (21), small forward Rudy Gay (22), power forward Darrell Arthur (20), and center Marc Gasol (23).

So am I sympathizing with the former coach? I am indeed. I don’t really think changing up the system every other year is going to be good for anyone, but what the hell do I know?

The Grizzlies’ bench features three names of interest. Hakim Warrick, averaging 11.9 points per game, still finds himself in a reserve role after starring with Melo at Syracuse; former Nugget Greg Buckner is spending the twilight of his career on the end of the pine; and Darius Miles perhaps the single reason the Portland Trail Blazers will never reach their full potential as his salary is now back on the Blazers’ books after meeting his league mandated games played! Thanks Memphis … we owe you one.

The main issues with the Grizzlies lately have been their lack of scoring. In their nine straight losses Memphis has only scored over 90 points once (91 vs. Utah). Aside from their two leading scores Mayo (19.1 ppg) and Gay (18.5 ppg) Memphis lacks any other real firepower.

The Nuggets once ventured down this same path … aside from a young Carmelo Anthony there was nobody else to carry the scoring burden aside from limited offensive players like Andre Miller, Marcus Camby and eventually Kenyon Martin. As fans we had to wait for the development of Nene, JR Smith, and Linas Kleiza and for the trade chips to land first Allen Iverson and then Chauncey Billups.

It is difficult to watch the development of a team and to watch lots and lots of bad basketball, but watching the Nuggets’ ship start to sail has been worth the wait.

The Nuggets take their 11-9 road record and their 13-9 record in back-to-back games to Memphis tonight and then to New Orleans tomorrow night. The Nuggets are 7-4 in their first game in back-to-backs this season. The key tonight is to stay focused and keep building on the two blowout wins recently of the Kings and Jazz.

This is definitely a trap-type game for Denver. Memphis will come out fired up for their new coach (Hollins) knowing they are the ones who ultimately got their old coach (Iavaroni) fired.

Defensively I think Denver will probably use Dahntay Jones on O.J. Mayo and we’ll probably see Kenyon Martin on Rudy Gay. Like I stated before, if Denver can shut these guys down then Memphis doesn’t really have a shot. I can’t see Marc Gasol, Conley or anyone else really hurting the Nuggets on the offensive end.

In order for Denver to win I would like to see them come out moving the ball down low early and build up Nene’s confidence after his 12-12 performance versus the Jazz. Come out and step on the Grizzlies’ throat early and don’t let them back into the game late. We don’t see the Nuggets do this often – so do I expect to see it tonight? I hope so. It’d be nice to see another blowout and get the bigs some rest before tomorrow night’s contest against the Hornets.

Pregame Notes:

  • Both games on this road trip are scheduled for 8:00 p.m. Eastern (6:00 p.m. Mountain)
  • Memphis has 9 of their 11 wins at home
  • Denver is 36-16 all-time vs. the Grizzlies