The Denver Nuggets are riding high. They are 10-3 in their last thirteen games and beat quality opponents like the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder and Milwaukee Bucks along the way. Throw in the fact, two of the Nuggets losses in their 10-3 stretch came on shots that missed at the buzzer and it’s hard to see anyone stopping them. Not so fast! The other loss was a blowout at the hands of the Houston Rockets who have now beaten Denver six games in a row, including victories with winning margins of thirty and twenty-four points this season…and are also tonight’s opponent.

The Rockets also come into Denver as the hottest team in the NBA, even hotter than the Nuggets. Houston was won eleven straight and fifteen of their last sixteen. They have yet to lose a game in the month of February. The win has put them at the leader board of the NBA standings and the trio of James Harden, Chris Paul and Clint Capela looks as unstoppable as ever. Despite the run of good play, the Nuggets will have to be at their very best today if they plan to get a win.

The Basics

Who: Houston Rockets (45-13) at Denver Nuggets (33-26)

When: 6:00PM MST

Where: The Can, Denver CO

How to watch/listen: Altitude TV and KKSE Altitude Radio AM950

Rival Blog: The Dream Shake

Position Nuggets Rockets Advantage
PG Jamal Murray Chris Paul Rockets
SG Gary Harris James Harden Rockets
SF Will Barton P.J. Tucker Even
PF Wilson Chandler Trevor Ariza Even
C Nikola Jokic Clint Capela Even
Bench Trey Lyles, Mason Plumlee,
Devin Harris, Malik Beasley
Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson, Joe Johnson,
Luc Mbah a Moute, Nene, Gerald Green

Injured Players: Torrey Craig – out (hamstring), Paul Millsap – out (wrist), Tyler Lydon – out (knee), Eric Gordon – questionable (illness)

Key Matchup: Nikola Jokic vs Clint Capela

Harden and Paul are guys you can’t really full out stop, you just hope to limit what they can do. Capela might be the key to stopping the Rockets though. Houston loves to operate the pick and roll and has two of the best ball handlers in the league to do it. When this happens Nikola Jokic either gets switched onto the aforementioned best ball handlers, which is a recipe for disaster, or has to give a weak hedge and then try to get back in position. That may work on some of the slower roll men of the NBA but Capela is too fast and athletic which leave Nikola out of position and generally Capela with an easy dunk. Denver has to figure out how to solve that. Perhaps…

Key thing to watch for: How much Plumkic?

Coach Malone in general avoided pairing Jokic and Mason Plumlee on the court together in Mase’s first game back, at least until it got to stretch time. Coach elected to close with Plumkic, and eventually just Plumlee when Jokic fouled out, against the Spurs and it worked. Plumlee made a huge impact on the game late, especially defensively and had the game icing dunk on a perfectly executed pick and roll with less than half a minute to go. Plumlee certainly matches up better defensively on Capela and I won’t be surprised to see coach go to that more often tonight. However, he’ll need to be careful, putting Plumlee on Capela means sliding Jokic onto Ariza or perhaps Mbah A Moute and that is going to be a tough matchup for Nikola defensively as well.

Opening thought: Show me game

The Nuggets have always struggled to get noticed on a national level (or even a local level at times) and this season has been no different. The fact remains though that they are playing some of the best basketball in the league and are putting it together at exactly the right time. Still, with the West standings as tight as they are there’s a very real chance Denver doesn’t make the playoffs at all which means people on both the national and local scenes have a right to be skeptical. The Nuggets can change a lot of that tonight with a victory. If they can go out and beat what is one of the two best teams in the NBA right now, end the Rockets eleven game win streak and climb to a tie for fifth in the West with potentially being in a 4-way tie in the loss column for third, well, people are bound to start noticing.

Pregame audio: Michael Malone