The Denver Nuggets and Sacramento Kings are separated by just a half-game in the standings, but the gulf between them seems to widen by the game. The Nuggets are 10-9 in their last 19 games and are finally able to get their healthy players on the same page.

This isn’t to say they are healthy, with Darrell Arthur still suffering from a recurring leg injury and Jameer Nelson exploring the surgery option for his ailing wrist, an option that would keep him out the remainder of the season. But with Jusuf Nurkic logging a 16 point, 11 rebound double-double just before the break and Emmanual Mudiay scoring in double-figures in 13 of his last 17 games while keeping his turnovers at 4 or fewer in all but two of those contests (and netting a 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio) the youth may be able to surmount the rookie/sophomore wall for the stretch run.

The Kings, meanwhile, have lost 8 of their last 10, just fired assistant coach Vance Walberg over George Karl’s objections, and are reliably reported to be looking to hire both a new coach and general manager after the season. In short, the Kings are a mess with no clear direction for their future while the Nuggets are building on a solid young core and good young veterans in their prime, while stockpiling draftpicks to help fine-tune the roster. The Nuggets look to overtake the Kings in the playoff chase tonight.

The Basics:

Who: Denver Nuggets (22-32) at Sacramento Kings (22-31)

When: 8:00 PM MST

Where: Sleep Train Arena, Sacramento CA

How to watch: Altitude TV

Rival blog: Sactown Royalty

Sacramento Kings Denver Nuggets Advantage
PG Rajon Rondo Emmanuel Mudiay Even
SG Marco Belinelli Gary Harris Even
SF Rudy Gay Danilo Gallinari Nuggets
PF Willie Cauley-Stein Kenneth Faried Nuggets
C DeMarcus Cousins Nikola Jokic Kings

Darren Collison, Ben McLemore, Kosta Koufos, Omri Casspi, Quincy Acy

Will Barton, Jusuf Nurkic, Darrell Arthur, D.J. Augustin, Joffrey Lauvergne, Mike Miller Nuggets

Injured players: Darrell Arthur – probable (quad), Jameer Nelson – doubtful (wrist),Wilson Chandler – out (hip), Ben McLemore – probable (wrist)

Three thoughts:

New blood, same chemistry? The Nuggets were not overly active at the trade deadline, but they did swap out Randy Foye for D.J. Augustin and a couple of second round picks. Foye’s on-court performance this year has been roundly maligned around these parts, but his veteran leadership in huddles, in the locker room and in practice has been praised by several people around the team.

Augustin won’t know the offense, but he is an actual point guard rather than a shooting guard like Foye trying to play the point. He’s putting up a career-low in points this season but is a careful distributor, running a 4 assist to 1.5 turnover ratio for his career in 24 minutes a game. He doesn’t attempt the high-risk, high-reward pass but also doesn’t make the costly decision. Mudiay’s minutes have been increasing as Michael Malone attempted to limit Foye’s decision-making minutes but the whiplash in the offense whenever Mudiay left the game was still noticeable. The hope is that Augustin can keep the offense flowing while he learns Denver’s principles, especially if Jameer Nelson is done for the year.

Big-man contact sport. DeMarcus Cousins is the focal point of everything the Kings do. His usage rate is second in the league, and the next big man on the list is Blake Griffin at #15. Nikola Jokic has had some trouble with aggressive big men in the paint, though not as much as the national media has had figuring out that Jokic and Nurkic are different people. Although the combined powers of both men would make for a pretty spectacular center, in this case Denver has two centers with two completely different approaches to throw at Cousins. Jokic is an incredible skilled big man who is putting up huge rate numbers with a variety of skills, while Nurkic backs down from nothing and is one of the few big men in the league who is completely indifferent to Cousins’s bullying techniques. Watching the two of them face down Cousins should be entertaining, to say the least.

Playoff push. Will Barton has mentioned it. Danilo Gallinari has mentioned it. Coach Malone has mentioned that guys in the locker room are mentioning it. The playoffs are still on the minds and hearts of Nuggets players, and if they truly intend to make a push for the playoffs they will have to go on a rather extended streak of winning basketball. There's no better place to put one's money where one's mouth is than in Sacramento on Friday night. Playoffs start here, Nuggets. Let's see what you've got.

Prediction: 105-96 Nuggets, as the Kings are really struggling with team cohesion while Denver took the All-Star break to get even closer with several players together in Toronto. Welcome to the team, D.J., and godspeed and best of luck to you, Mr. Foye. Thank you for your professionalism on and off the court and your work in the community, and I hope the playoffs with the Thunder are a nice reward.

Want to wish the best to my Big bro @randyfoye in @okcthunder ! Great teammate and great friend!!#bro4ever

Posted by Jusuf Nurkić on Thursday, February 18, 2016