The 9-1 Denver Nuggets try to keep their early season hot streak intact as they take to the road against the Memphis Grizzlies. The Grizzlies had a down year last year and have an injury-prone veteran core, but they are staying committed to what made them a Western Conference power while they determine their next steps. Memphis doesn’t have the firepower to keep up with Denver, but their hope lies in turning it into an ugly, scrappy game.

Traditionally Denver has struggled in those contests, but the Nuggets have been showing off their new-found commitment on the defensive end and finding enough offense to win – whether through explosions like Jamal Murray’s 48 points against the Celtics or good bench efforts that keep the scoring going when star Nikola Jokic sits. The Grizzlies are a bit short-handed, missing three rotation players, and will need to find the bodies and the per-possession effectiveness to stop a quality Denver team on a roll.

The Basics

Who: Denver Nuggets (9-1) at Memphis Grizzlies (5-4)

When: 6:00 PM MT

Where: The Grindhouse aka FedEx Forum, Memphis TN

How to watch: Altitude Sports Network, League Pass

Rival Blog: Grizzly Bear Blues

Injury Report

Will Barton – out (core/hip), Isaiah Thomas – out (hip), Michael Porter Jr. – out (back), Jarred Vanderbilt – out (foot), JaMychal Green – out (jaw), Chandler Parsons – out (knee), Omri Casspi – out (knee)

Three Things to Watch

Pace. The Grizzlies are a good defensive team (seventh in defensive rating so far) and a middling offensive one (18th in offensive rating) but when pace of play and scoring are included, they are the second-lowest scoring team in the NBA and hold opponents to the second-lowest scoring rank as well. The Grizzlies continue to favor low-possession-count games, grinding according to their established tradition. Denver this year is also running a slow pace game, though, ranking 24th to Memphis’s last place in pace. The Nuggets look comfortable in the half-court even without Jokic scoring and with their open shots falling at one of the worst rates in the league. If Memphis is hoping that a grinding game alone will shake Denver, that’s unlikely.

Jokic’s scoring. Joker has taken fewer than 10 shots in four of his last five games, with totals of 8, 9, 5, and just three shots in those games. Denver has won all of them. Jokic has been a great passer in those games and a willing rebounder, but at some point he will need to stop setting multiple picks out at the three point line or fading out of the paint to let the guards play some isolation ball, and start scoring on the block and from the elbow. He had a hand or wrist issue in the preseason that he wore a wrap for, but that was forgotten when he put up 35 points against Phoenix in the second game of the season. Perhaps that was brushed under the rug too soon.

Whether he is missing his shooting touch or simply taking a willing backseat to other players on this team, it will be hard for Denver to continue to win if Nikola’s scoring touch stay absent from the box score. Jamal Murray can’t score 50 every night, even give or take a bucket.

Bench play. Memphis has an interesting starting rotation of Mike ConleyGarrett Temple, Kyle Anderson, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Marc Gasol. It gives them a nice defensive lineup with some pick and roll potential and the sort of offense that probes for weakness for the whole 24 second clock. Those starters only scored 41 points against the Phoenix Suns and 49 points against the Golden State Warriors in their last two games, however – both losses, and the Memphis bench outscored the starters in both game. Even missing some firepower with Casspi and Parsons both out, Shelvin Mack and Dillion Brooks are more than holding up their end of the bargain off the pine. Of course, Denver’s bench hasn’t been too shabby either.

In a team matchup featuring one of the best defensive squads from past years going against one of the best young offenses in the league that hasn’t quite hit its stride this season, the benches of both teams might decide the outcome.

Prediction: I don’t think Memphis can keep up with Denver over 48 minutes, even if Denver plays the home team’s preferred style. 108-98 Nuggets.

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