There’s a big game Sunday – no, not the Superbowl. Two teams whose futures remain inextricably linked meet Sunday as the Denver Nuggets travel to take on the New York Knicks. Their sitiations are fairly similar as neither team has lived up to the hopes of its fanbase yet this season, but both have hope for the future in young talent that they are building around the one true current All-Star talent on the roster.

Carmelo Anthony has had recurring tendonitis issues in his surgically repaired knee and has been in and out of the lineup (though he is expected to play Sunday) and the Knicks have lost 5 straight games and 8 of their last 9. Rookie sensation Kristaps Porzingis has struggled with being the sole healthy focal point of the offense, and may be hitting his first rookie wall as the All-Star break closes in.

On the other hand, Danilo Gallinari is looking stronger than ever and fully recovered from his own knee issues, while Nikola Jokic continues to get better with every game and is pushing for inclusion in that Porzingis / Karl-Anthony Towns upper tier of rookie recognition.

The Basics:

Who: Denver Nuggets (20-31) at New York Knicks (23-30)

When: 11 AM MST

Where: Madison Square Garden, New York NY

How to watch: Altitude TV

Rival blog: Posting and Toasting

New York Knicks Denver Nuggets Advantage
PG Jose Calderon Emmanuel Mudiay Even
SG Arron Afflalo Gary Harris Even
SF Carmelo Anthony Danilo Gallinari Nuggets
PF Kristaps Porzingis Kenneth Faried Even
C Robin Lopez Nikola Jokic Even

Derrick Williams, Langston Galloway, Jerian Grant, Lance Thomas, Sasha Vujacic, Kyle O’Quinn

Will Barton, Jusuf Nurkic, Randy Foye, Joffrey Lauvergne, Mike Miller, Darrell Arthur, J.J. Hickson Even

Injured players: Darrell Arthur – questionable (quad), Jameer Nelson – out (wrist),Wilson Chandler – out (hip), Carmelo Anthony, knee (probable),

Key Matchups:

1) Butch and Sundance. Both teams have a veteran scoring star matched up with a surprising rookie big man. It’s a question whether it should be referred to as the Carmelo Anthony trade or the Danilo Gallinari trade, but the swap of those two (as well as the extra parts that came Denver’s way) shaped two franchises for the next decade.

Melo’s injury last year brought Porzingis to the Knicks in the draft, while Gallinari’s delayed injury recovery from his ACL tear helped the Nuggets land Mudiay (and strangely enough gave them a high enough second rounder to steal Jokic in 2014). Gallinari and Jokic will need to handle Porzingis and Carmelo in New York for the Nuggets to pull this out. Since Jokic will be facing a steady dose of the larger Robin Lopez as well it would be nice if Jusuf Nurkic took this opportunity to come out of his funk and become the interior force on defense he showed flashed of last year.

2) Score or Defend? The Knicks have scored 93 points a game over their last nine games, with 8 losses. The Nuggets have scored over 100 in 10 of their last 11. In theory, this game is already in the bag… except the Nuggets have been playing some atrocious defense over that stretch as well. Denver has given up 100+ in 9 of those 11 and 109+ in 7 contests. The Nuggets have been trying to outscore teams, to mediocre results (5 wins, 6 losses). There isn’t anything the Knicks do that the Nuggets haven’t seen done better by other teams this year; the Nuggets have played one of the hardest schedules in the league thus far. But Denver is either going to have to light up the scoreboard or get more stops than they managed for most of the game against Chicago’s reserves in order to avoid another nail-biter.

Prediction: The two teams are pretty evenly matched at this point, but Gallo should be able to handle the ailing Melo in a return to MSG and the Nuggets can ride the wave of their Bulls comeback victory to a winning start to their road trip 104-97.

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