The Denver Nuggets haven’t exactly had the smoothest of starts to thier season but they’ve powered through to a 9-3 record. A lot of that has to do with the sheer talent the Nuggets have, but it also has a lot to do with the fact that their opponents haven’t exactly been what you call the NBA’s elite. That changes tonight. Coming to town this evening are the 11-3 Houston Rockets who remain one of the best teams in the NBA despite some significant changes in the offseason.

The Nuggets have always struggled with the Rockets and the James Harden – Clint Capela pick and roll but now Houston has added another noted Nugget killer, Russell Westbrook, to the equation. While many pundits around the league questioned whether or not the pairing of two ball dominant guards on the level of Westbrook and Harden would work, so far it’s been pretty smooth sailing in Houston. Now, it hasn’t been murderer’s row for Houston in terms of their opponents either but they are riding an eight game win streak that includes a signature win over the Los Angeles Clippers and quite a few blowouts against others. Make no mistake, this is the toughest team the Nuggets have faced this season thus far.

The Basics

Who: Houston Rockets (11-3) at Denver Nuggets (9-3)

When: 7:00 PM MST

Where: The Can, Denver CO

How to Watch/Listen: Altitude TV and KKSE Altitude Radio 92.5FM

Rival Blog: The Dream Shake

Position Nuggets Rockets Advantage
PG Jamal Murray Russell Westbrook Rockets
SG Gary Harris James Harden Rockets
SF Will Barton Danuel House Jr. Even
PF Paul Millsap P.J. Tucker Nuggets
C Nikola Jokic Clint Capela Nuggets
Bench Monte Morris, Jerami Grant, Mason Plumlee, Juancho Hernangomez, Michael Porter Jr Ben McLemore, Austin Rivers, Isaiah Hartenstein Nuggets

Injured players: Eric Gordon – out (knee), Nene – out (hip), Gerald Green – out (foot)

Key matchup: Gary Harris vs James Harden

The Nuggets will have to find some way to at least make things hard on Harden. He’s been nothing short of incredible this season and is averaging over thirty-nine points a game. Denver will no doubt employ the services of Gary Harris who has likewise been very impressive when tasked with taking on an opponent’s best wing player. Don’t be surprised if Coach Michael Malone shuffles up the rotation a bit as well to get Torrey Craig some playing time to help out on either Harden or Westbrook. Ultimately, no one is going to stop Harden, but if the Nuggets make him work for his points and avoid fouling as much as possible (Harden currently averages over fourteen free throw attempts a game) then there’s a good chance for them to get the victory

Main thing to watch for: bench production

With the injuries to Gordon, Nene and Green the Rockets are dreadfully thin once the starters come out. The Nuggets meanwhile are 100% healthy and have a rotation that could go thirteen deep if they wanted it to. While the bench hasn’t always been pretty the talent is certainly there and tonight is a night where the Nuggets need their reserves to be top notch. It’s going to take everything Denver has just to keep pace with Houston’s starters which means their advantage, and perhaps their ultimate ticket to victory, is going to be if their bench can out perform Houston’s. The matchup goes in Denver’s favor, but we’ve seen the bench unit under perform plenty of times this season.

Opening thought: big momentum game

The Nuggets are awful against the Rockets, it’s no secret. Denver’s weakness on defense is always going to be Nikola Jokic out at the perimeter defending a pick and roll and when the pick and roll is executed by perhaps the best P&R guard in the game today and perhaps the best rolling big man in the game today, well, it sets up for disaster on the Nuggets end. Still, one way or another Denver has to figure out how to get over the Rockets hump. While a loss tonight certainly doesn’t spell doom or anything like that, the Nuggets don’t get another crack at these guys until New Year’s Eve. It’d be nice to see them exorcise their Houston demons tonight.