The Denver Nuggets look to get back on the winning path after a pair of embarrassing losses, one of them to the now-visiting Sacramento Kings. The Nuggets received a large dose of humble pie from a Sacramento team that came out of the All-Star break gunning for a victory. DeMarcus Cousins had a 37 point, 20 rebound performance while Rajon Rondo was one assist shy of a triple-double. Meanwhile, the Nuggets have been strolling through their last two games, giving up 70 points in the first half to Sacramento and 64 to Boston.

It’s no surprise that both wound up as losses for Denver, with coach Michael Malone harping after the Celtics game on his team quitting and suffering from a lack of fight both in his post-game presser and a day later at practice. “I hope it’s a blip on the radar,” Malone said, and the Nuggets will get a chance to correct that blip tonight.

The Basics:

Who: Sacramento Kings (23-31) at Denver Nuggets (22-34)

When: 7:00 PM MST

Where: Pepsi Center, Denver CO

How to watch: Altitude TV

Rival blog: Sactown Royalty

Sacramento Kings Denver Nuggets Advantage
PG Rajon Rondo Emmanuel Mudiay Kings
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, JaKarr Sampson Nuggets

Injured players: Darrell Arthur – probable (quad), Kenneth Faried – questionable (illness), Jameer Nelson – doubtful (wrist),Wilson Chandler – out (hip), Ben McLemore – probable (wrist), Omri Casspi – probable (dental)

Three thoughts:

Mid-terms are due. The kids got schooled by Sacramento’s veterans in last week’s meeting, as Cousins and Rondo had their way with Denver’s rookies and sophomores. Emmanual Mudiay needs to find a way to run the offense and get lane penetration. Sacramento’s defensive switch confused him last time, but this time he should be ready. Whether he can make shots and the right passes is a different matter. Nurkic and Jokic cannot be dismantled by Cousins so readily this time around. He is too big a load for Darrell Arthur or even a healthy Faried, let alone the one who was so sick against the Celtics he had to pull himself out of the game. One of the true centers has to contain him, or at least keep up with him. Jokic especially cannot let his offensive game be benched due to early foul woes. Both Mudiay and Jokic had decent showings in the Celtics game (for 3 quarters anyway) so hopefully the All-Star cobwebs have finally been cleared and the Nuggets can pass this test.

Effort and defense are a must. Malone has stressed it over the last couple of games but neither aspect made it to the court for the Nuggets. Hopefully Malone's comments have been taken as a challenge to Denver's players and they come out with a renewed focus on that side of the court. Holding a team under a hundred would be a nice start. Newly acquired JaKarr Sampson has the sort of athletic ability to guard multiple positions and switch from Rudy Gay all the way down to Rajon Rondo if need be, and may be just the sort of defensive Swiss Army knife Malone is looking for in this situation. The Nuggets cannot afford for both of those players to go for 20+ points again, so whomever gets the task of stopping a member of Sacramento's Big Three needs to accept that challenge and win a personal battle or two.

Home court blahs. The Nuggets are 11-16 at home, and for all the bluster by Malone at the start of the season about defending the home court and using the altitude to Denver's advantage, that plan has never materialized. The Celtics just swaggered into the Mile High City, put up 37 points in the first quarter and made Denver look like the ones who didn't want to play at altitude. Some of it may be youth, some of it health, but the Nuggets play 8 of their next 10 at home and could start winning back some hometown support with a sustained run over the next month. Show some pride, Denver – and give your currently-limited home fans something to cheer about.

Prediction: Nuggets 108, Kings 106. The defense isn't all the way there but the home team wins it with a stop on the last possession to take back some dignity.