The Denver Nuggets are headed into Cleveland to face the Cavaliers on the second game of their five game road trip. The Cavs season has been up and down and their .500 record is a bit disappointing to start the season for a team with aspirations of making a run in the playoffs. Adding to the difficulty, both of their star guards Darius Garland and Donovan Mitchell are nursing injuries and Mitchell will not play in tonight’s game. When healthy, Cleveland boasts two excellent scoring guards flanked by two long bigs in Jarret Allen and Evan Mobley with wing Max Strus free to roam the perimeter and bomb threes which is what he does best. They may not have put it all together just yet but even without Mitchell Cleveland brings a lot of talent to the table and will be no easy road victory for Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets.

The Essentials

Who: Denver Nuggets (9-3) at Cleveland Cavaliers (6-6)

When: 4:00PM MST

Where: Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse. Cleveland, OH.

How to watch/listen: Denver Stiffs does not condone piracy….unless it’s the romanticized 18th century type. Altitude TV where available (Altitude TV is available on DirecTV, DirecTV Stream & Fubo TV). NBA League pass for those not in the Nuggets market. Altitude Radio 92.5FM. Claim to be the grandson of Eliot Ness, here on a secret mission to take down the grandson of Al Capone.

Rival Blog: Fear The Sword

The Matchup

Injury Report: Jamal Murray – out (hamstring), Vlatko Cancar – out (knee); Donovan Mitchell – out (hamstring), Ty Jerome – out (ankle), Isaac Okoro – out (knee), Isaiah Mobley – out (G-League), Ricky Rubio – out (personal)

The Three Things

Key Matchup: Aaron Gordon vs Evan Mobley

Jan 6, 2023; Denver, Colorado, USA; Denver Nuggets forward Aaron Gordon (50) passes the ball away from Cleveland Cavaliers forward Evan Mobley (4) in the first quarter at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Mobley is a bright young talent for Cleveland and though he may not have already achieved the expectations of some, his defensive prowess alone will make him someone the Nuggets have to account for. The best thing Gordon can do is make Mobley work on both ends and contain him on the glass as much as possible. I wouldn’t expect a big scoring explosion from AG tonight. If he boxes out Mobley and keeps him off the offensive glass while also maybe knocking down a three or two to keep Evan honest and away from roaming the lane that will be enough. Gordon should be ready for some Jokic dishes as well. Mobley and Allen make a nice combo to double team Nikola down low and Joker will be sure to try and take advantage.

The thing to remember: Allen gives Jokic no trouble

I expect a near consistent double team on Joker tonight. In the past two games against Cleveland he’s tallied 28+ point triple doubles. Allen is a strong defender and a good center in the league but he just doesn’t have the size and skill to stack with Nikola. This means guys are going to have to knock down their shots when the ball comes to them. Denver will need players like Michael Porter Jr. to break out of their shooting slump and maximize Nikola’s passing. Fortunately, Porter should have a good advantage facing up against the smaller Strus. If Denver’s wings aren’t knocking down shots this is going to turn into a slugfest really quick.

The thing to bet: Jokic over 9.5 assists (+105)

We creep just barely into the positive odds with Jokic assists today. Based on the belief he’s going to see a lot of double teams, I’m liking this action. Strus, Garland and Dean Wade aren’t exactly defensive stalwarts either so there should be plenty of opportunity for Denver’s non-Nikola players to get buckets if they are open.