The Denver Nuggets (9-4) find themselves near the top of the Western Conference standings just 0.5 games back of the first-place Portland Trail Blazers. Following a four-game road trip that saw them go 3-1, they’re back at home for a matchup with the New York Knicks (7-7) who have been inconsistent to start the year, but they’re right in the thick of the Eastern Conference and knocked off the Utah Jazz on the road just last night.

I’ve somewhat buried the lead here, as the Nuggets are not going to be the team we’ve seen for the past several years tonight after two-time MVP Nikola Jokic was placed in the league’s health and safety protocols around 5:30 last night. He joins Bones Hyland on that list, and he could very well be joined by Aaron Gordon, who, as of this morning, is dealing with a non-covid illness. That could change by game time tonight.

Denver has been great to start the season. They’ve needed a couple of late charges to knock off teams, and their losses have often coincided with obscene shooting performances from their opponents. For the Knicks, they’re playing pong with a .500 record. After starting the season 3-1, they lost four of their next five, and they’ve been bouncing around .500 ever since, and they’re looking to push back above .500 for the first time since that start.

The Essentials

Who: Denver Nuggets (9-4, 4-0 home) vs New York Knicks (7-7, 3-4 away)

When: 8:00 p.m. MST

Where: Ball Arena

How to watch/listen: Denver Stiffs does not condone piracy..unless it’s the romanticized 18th-century type. AltitudeTV where available. League Pass for non-Denver market viewers. Show up in Denver. 92.5 FM KKSE Altitude Sports Radio

Rival Blog: Poasting and Toasting

Expected Starting Lineups:

NYK: PG Jalen Brunson, SG Cam Reddish, SF RJ Barrett, PF Julius Randle, C Isaiah Hartenstein

DEN: PG Jamal Murray, SG Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, SF Michael Porter Jr., PF Aaron Gordon, C DeAndre Jordan

Injuries: Bones Hyland (H & S Protocols), Nikola Jokic (H & S Protocols), Aaron Gordon (Illness), Collin Gillespie (leg), Ish Smith (calf), Mitchell Robinson (knee)

Three Things to Watch

How Does Denver Handle Center Minutes?

With Jokic sidelined, we’re going to see DeAndre Jordan starting in his place. This is one of the problems that Denver has with their current roster construction. Behind Jordan, they have no true center. Jordan hasn’t played more than 20:32 in a game yet this season, and that was in garbage-time mop up duty. Even with Mitchell Robinson out, the Knicks have a lot of big bodies to throw at Jordan which will wear him out. I don’t see him playing the 31.1 minutes per game Jokic is vacating, so it will be interesting to see how they fill in that gap, especially against a team that is third in rebounding and third in offensive rebounds per game.

Keep them Outside

Against the Boston Celtics, Denver got rolled out of the gym because they couldn’t keep up with the torrid shooting pace Boston was putting on. They were 55.6 percent overall and 43.2 percent from beyond the arc. The Knicks rank 28th in the NBA at 32.6 percent from outside despite ranking ninth in 3-point attempts per game. With the limited number of bigs Denver has, they need to keep New York outside to force their shooters into longer shots rather than attempts at the rim.

Are the Shooters Present?

Denver leads the league in 3-point percentage at 42.3 percent. Timely shooting and hot streaks have helped carry them in multiple games this year. The gravity of Jokic has often given those guys more room to operate. With Jokic out of the lineup, the entire offensive game plan will dramatically shift, and we could see them struggle as a result. If they’re able to maintain their respective hot streaks, Denver will be able to stay in the game no matter what.