The Houston Rockets are playing like a team possessed, winning 8 of their past 9 games, and tonight they face the Denver Nuggets who are apparently a team cursed to wander in the Injury Desert for 40 years. The latest victim of this curse is Paul Millsap, who may be out up to three months after having wrist surgery to repair a torn ligament. Denver is going to have to regroup against a team that had its number last year and is playing even better this year.

Many Denver fans look to the loss against the Portland Trail Blazers late in the season as the de facto elimination game, but the Nuggets played the Rockets three times in their last 13 games – and lost all three by a combined 11 points. Slowing James Harden – who has become Death, destroyer of worlds – and his band of merry men is Denver’s tall order for Thanksgiving Eve, but after a bounce-back win against the Sacramento Kings thanks to the efforts of a very vocal Nikola Jokic, the Nuggets are going to try to right the playoff ship one win at a time.

The Basics

Who: Denver Nuggets (10-7) at Houston Rockets (13-4)

When: 6:00 pm MST

Where: Toyota Center, Houston TX

How to Watch: Altitude TV

Rival Blog: The Dream Shake

Injury Report

Regarding Paul Millsap being out for three months:

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Also, Wilson Chandler’s back is dodgy.

Three things to watch

Can the Nuggets adjust to a new starting lineup? In a year of very uneven output from most of its lineup combinations, the one constant through the first 15 games was the starting lineup. Denver didn’t change it, and it was one of the top performing units in the league. Now the mixing-and-matching will begin as the Nuggets try to replace Millsap’s contributions, and the lack of familiarity with those options this year may hurt Denver. They cannot come out of the gate slowly; the Rockets have won by double digits in 8 of their last 9 victories, while scoring 135+ points in two of those. Denver needs a fast start and a lot of scoring output if they intend to make this a contest for 48 minutes.

What can the bench provide? Denver’s bench has had some woeful outputs this year, and if Will Barton’s contributions are removed (as he plays basically like a 6th starter) it becomes somewhat hideous. At least one bench player will have to start for Millsap, and if Chandler misses another game that will be two players pulled from the bench to help the starters. Denver needs its bench to at least keep touch with Houston’s, and if any of Denver’s vast legions of front court options wanted to slow Clint Capela on either end that would be a great help. He helped ruin Denver last year and is showcasing his rebounding and cut game this year to even greater effect.

Can anyone slow James Harden? He went off for 40 and 39 points respectively in the last two games he played against Denver last year, and his roll game to the basket and short-lob passes just over a retreating Jokic emasculated Denver’s interior defense in those contests. The hope with Millsap was that Denver would have the ability to short-circuit that attack, but now there’s very little time to adjust to his absence.

Considering Harden might have reached even another level this year, leading the league in a slew of categories, Denver will have to find some sort of answer or they’ll be the latest in a string of double-digit blowouts by the Rockets.

Prediction: In Houston, without Millsap, and utilizing an attack that is not as robust as last year’s offense yet, this will be hard. Considering the Rockets had no problem getting into a scoring contest with Denver last year – and winning – I don’t think the first matchup this year will be any different. Rockets 114, Nuggets 108.

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