The Denver Nuggets and the Indiana Pacers (and the rest of the NBA for that matter) will wrap up the first half of their season tonight. For Denver it’s been a roller coaster ride but they’ve found some momentum behind MVP candidate Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. as of late. Winners of three straight (all on the road), the Nuggets will look to ride some momentum into the All-Star break by securing a win tonight in Indiana and finishing a perfect 4-0 on their road trip.

The Pacers had an arguably even bigger roller coaster ride this first half of the season. They entered the season with uncertainty surrounding star guard Victor Oladipo and quickly moved him as part of the James Harden trade but the headliner of the trade package they got in return, Caris Levert, underwent an extensive physical when he arrived in Indiana where it was discovered he had a form of cancer. Indiana could have cancelled the trade based on a failed physical, but they did the right thing and stuck by Levert. He has yet to play for them. Next, after finally gaining some momentum and winning three of four, their season was put on pause due to health and safety protocol. After two games were postponed Indiana was back in action but promptly lost the next four. All of that led into last night where the Pacers finally got a win against the Cleveland Cavaliers, which brings us to today.

The Essentials

Who: Denver Nuggets (20-15) at Indiana Pacers (16-18)

When: 6PM MST

Where: Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Indianapolis, IN.

How to watch/listen: Denver Stiffs does not condone piracy…unless its the romanticized 18th-century type. Altitude TV where available, League Pass for non-Denver market viewers. Convince the gate at Banker’s Fieldhouse that Hoosiers was actually inspired by your true story and you are in fact the real life version of Jimmy Chitwood. 92.5 FM KKSE Altitude Sports Radio.

Rival blog: Indy Cornrows

Position Nuggets Pacers Advantage
PG Monte Morris Malcolm Brogdon Pacers
SG Jamal Murray Justin Holiday Nuggets
SF Will Barton Doug McDermott Even
PF Michael Porter Jr. Domantas Sabonis Pacers
C Nikola Jokic Myles turner Nuggets
Bench P.J. Dozier, Zeke Nnaji, Isaiah Hartenstein, Vlatko Cancar T.J. McConnell, Jeremy Lamb, Edmond Sumner, Aaron Holiday Pacers

Player availability: Paul Millsap – out (knee), Gary Harris – out (adductor), JaMychal Green – out (shoulder), Facundo Campazzo – out (health and safety), R.J. Hampton – out (health and safety), Markus Howard – out (health and safety); Caris Levert – out (medical condition), T.J. Warren – out (foot), Brian Bowen II – out (G League), Jalen Lecque – out (G League), Cassius Stanley – out (G League)

Three things to watch for

Key matchup: Domantas Sabonis vs Michael Porter Jr

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Domantas Sabonis might be one of the most underrated players in the league though he finally is starting to get some recognition. Named as Kevin Durant’s injury replacement, Sabonis will be making an appearance in the All Star Game for a second straight year. With Levert and T.J. Warren out, there’s little doubt who the fulcrum of the Indy offense is. He’s going to be an outstanding test for Porter, who has played some of the more impressive defense of his career lately. Fresh off battling with Giannis Antetokounmpo (at least when Denver wasn’t in a zone) MPJ finds himself once again tasked with guarding an elite big. On the other end though Porter’s shooting will make Sabonis guard out to the perimeter which can greatly reduce his impact on the defensive glass. A strong night on both ends from MPJ is just what the Nuggets need.

Key point: beware of complacency

The Nuggets have done very well on this four game road trip, evidenced by the fact they have not lost. Tuesday night’s win over the Milwaukee Bucks is arguably the best win of the season as well. Now they’ve got this last pesky game against Indiana before they all get a much needed break. Nobody is going to look at a 3-1 midwest road trip and say Denver performed poorly. It will be very easy to come out flat and let this game get away from them. Given the up and down first half of the season though, the Nuggets need to end it on a high note. Take care of business tonight and go into the break riding high knowing the team is back on track and ready to make their move in the second half.

Opening thought: one last preview

This will be the final preview I write for Denver Stiffs (more on that in the coming days). Over the course of six years I’ve written over a hundred of these things. Many writers over that time expressed their disdain for previews. I get it, they take time, you have to try and figure out who the heck is matching up with who each time and the comment board is very unforgiving for getting matchup advantages wrong. In Emmanuel Mudiay’s rookie season I said he was an even matchup with then Phoenix Suns guard Eric Bledsoe. Bledsoe scored like 30 points that night while Mudiay was typical Mudiay. Suns and Nuggets fans alike eviscerated me for that one and rightly so. Point being you put in a bunch of work with little thanks for an article that has a shelf life of 18 hours max. Writing previews and recaps is very commonly referred to as “the grind” in this biz. I never minded though. I’ve always really enjoyed writing previews. I like hunting through old photos to find a cool connection between the two teams I’m previewing, I always learn something when considering the matchups and who has the advantage and this year I’ve truly enjoyed coming up with quirky ways you could sneak into arenas to watch a game (don’t actually do any of the ideas I’ve suggested). I hope all the readers out there have enjoyed reading the previews as much as I have enjoyed writing them. It truly was an honor and a blast.