The Denver Nuggets were staring in the face the very real possibility of going 0-6 on their current road trip. After losing to the New Orleans Pelicans, the Nuggets had four straight games against quality Eastern Conference opponents. Luckily, they caught the Orlando Magic in the middle of the injury bug and got off the schneid with a 103-89 victory on Friday. Now they turn their focus towards the remaining three games of the road trip, the first of which is against the Indiana Pacers.

The Pacers were pegged to be a rebuilding team this year. After trading Paul George to the Oklahoma City Thunder for what most viewed as a fairly limited package in return, Indiana looked like a team about to win all of 25 games. In reality they’ve been one of the bigget surprises of the season. The key piece the Pacers got in the George trade, Victor Oladipo, is back in Indiana where he played his college ball and is playing like a star, averaging over 23 points a game while still getting nearly 4 assists. He has to be considered the front runner for Most Improved Player right now. He doesn’t have to do it alone either as he is supported by two talented young big men in Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis along with a nice mix of veterans and prospects.

The Basics

Who: Denver Nuggets (14-11) at Indiana Pacers (15-11)

When: 3:00 PM MST

Where: Banker’s Life Fieldhouse

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

Rival blog: Indy Cornrows

Position Nuggets Pacers Advantage
PG Jamal Murray Darren Collison Pacers
SG Gary Harris Victor Oladipo Pacers
SF Will Barton Bojan Bogdonavic Nuggets
PF Wilson Chandler Thaddeus Young Even
C Kenneth Faried Myles Turner Pacers
Bench Emmanuel Mudiay, Malik Beasley, Trey Lyles, Mason Plumlee, Juancho Hernangomez Domantas Sabonis, Lance Stephenson, Corey Joseph Even

Injured players: Nikola Jokic – out (ankle), Paul Millsap – out (wrist), Bojan Bogdanovic – questionable (ankle), Darren Collison – questionable (knee), Thaddeus Young – questionable (thigh), Lance Stephenson – questionable (ankle), Glenn Robinson III – out (ankle), Edmond Sumner – out (knee)

Key match up: Gary Harris vs Victor Oladipo

It’s a no doubter on the key matchup today. Oladipo is unquestionably the Pacers best player and also the engine that drives the team. Like Gary he’s a bit undersized for a 2 guard but it certainly doesn’t hurt him on the scoring end. Oladipo is very effective with the ball in his hands and driving to the lane and the majority of the offense will get initiated through him. Harris will have a tough task to stay in front of him as Oladipo is one of the quickest players with the ball in his hands in the league.

Key thing to watch for: Can the bench keep up?

With Will Barton seeing more action in the starting lineup, the bench has been left to search on a nightly basis for someone to give them some scoring punch. Against the Magic that guy was Emmanuel Mudiay. He seems to be the most obvious guy to replace Barton’s scoring in the second unit as he’s clearly the most talented scorer left among the reserves. As is all too well known however, Mudiay struggles with consistency and has in general been a net negative when on the court this season. Hopefully he can start to string together some good games. If he can’t, look for Trey Lyles, who played his high school ball in Indiana, to be motivated for a big game.

Opening thought: a 2-4 road trip would be a success

Most people didn’t think teams like Indiana or Orlando or the Detroit Pistons would be off to as good of starts as they are (though Detroit has stumbled as of late) when they were looking at this road trip at the beginning of the season so maybe it wasn’t pegged early on as one of the most difficult stretches of the year but it quickly became that. Throw in the fact that Denver is missing their two best players and to come out of this road trip at .500 would be phenomenal. That’s going to be pretty tough considering the remaining opponents but if the Nuggets can go 2-4 on this swing they can be happy. With a pissed off and desperate Pistons team next and then the trip finale on a back to back against the Boston Celtics, tonight is probably Denver’s best bet to get one more win on this swing. Will they do it?

Prediction: Denver 104 – Indiana 110