The trade deadline has passed and the Denver Nuggets are back to the business of winning basketball games. Unfortunately, business is going to be tough today. The Nuggets will take on the Houston Rockets, one of the best teams in the league, tonight and they’ll have to do it in Houston. Recently Denver has been up to the task of playing against the best teams in the league with wins over the Oklahoma City Thunder and Golden State Warriors last week, but both those games were at home. The other problem? The Rockets have owned Denver. The Nuggets haven’t beat Houston since December of 2015 and lost all four of their contests against the Rockets last season. The one game they played against the Rockets this season was a 30 point loss which is the second largest losing margin for the team this year.

It’s pretty easy to understand why that is. The Rockets have two future hall of fame players in Chris Paul and James Harden. They also have Clint Capela who is not a good matchup for Nikola Jokic and Trevor Ariza who flat out killed them in that blowout earlier this season. Add in guys like Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson and P.J. Tucker and you quickly realize that Houston is not only really good, but really deep as well. At the helm is former Nuggets coach Mike D’Antoni whose unique style has found a fit that might be even more perfect than the seven seconds or less Phoenix Suns. Add it all up and you have a veteran team with championship aspirations that matches up incredibly well with the Nuggets. Denver is going to need an extra special game tonight to get the W.

The Basics

Who: Denver Nuggets (29-25) at Houston Rockets (40-13)

When: 6:00 PM MST

Where: Toyota Center, Houston TX

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 Wilson Chandler Trevor Ariza Rockets
PF Darrell Arthur Ryan Anderson Rockets
C Nikola Jokic Clint Capela Nuggets
Bench Will Barton, Trey Lyles, Torrey Craig,
Malik Beasley
Eric Gordon, Luc Mbah a Moute, Nene,
P.J. Tucker, Gerald Green

Injured players: Torrey Craig – questionable (hamstring), Tyler Lydon – out (knee), Paul Millsap – out (wrist), Mason Plumlee – out (calf), Devin Harris – out (paperwork), Eric Gordon – questionable (back), Ryan Anderson – questionable (ankle), Trevor Ariza – questionable (hamstring), Zhou Qi – questionable (elbow)

Key matchup: Denver backcourt vs Houston backcourt

The Rockets have arguably the best backcourt in all of the NBA (and there’s not much of an argument), meanwhile the Nuggets have arguably the best backcourt age 23 and under. Chris Paul and James Harden are the standard that Jamal Murray and Gary Harris need to strive to. Those are the guys they want to be able to compete with and even beat. Obviously, it’s an incredibly tall task but it will be fun to watch if those guys are up to it. In the last contest between these two teams Paul and Harden combined for 44 points, 21 assists and 11 rebounds. Murray and Harris are going to have to do better than that if the Nuggets are going to have any chance of getting the win.

Key thing to watch for: who suits up for Houston

Anderson, Gordon and Ariza are all questionable tonight (also my 2016 draft boo Zhou Qi). Obviously Harden, Paul and Capella are formidable enough on their own but Houston’s depth is one of the things that makes them such a great team. Anderson, Ariza and Gordon effectively makeup what I would call Houston’s “Next Three” and have definitely been a thorn in Denver’s side in the past. In the last contest Ariza went 7-10 from three and led all scorers. Seems unlikely that all of these guys will be out tonight but it won’t be a surprise if one or two are. The Nuggets will need any advantage they can get tonight so who does and does not play on Houston’s side will be a big factor.

Opening thought: Devin Harris will not play

Coach Malone has already announced that Harris will not suit up for tonight’s game. That’s fairly standard practice, it’s really hard to get through all the travel and physicals and paperwork to make a deal truly a done deal in under 24 hours. That will affect how the Nuggets approach their rotation tonight though. Emmanuel Mudiay had been playing around 15 minutes as the backup point guard while Will Barton was inserted into the starting lineup at small forward. It will not be a surprise to see Barton come off the bench tonight just so he can command the second unit. The Nuggets also re-called two way rookie Monte Morris from the G-League earlier in the week so there’s a chance that he might get some minutes too, though I lean towards Barton playing the backup point guard minutes as more likely.

Prediction: Rockets 127 – Nuggets 118