The Denver Nuggets continue their October tour of Los Angeles just over a week before facing off against the Clippers at Staples Center for the regular season opener next Wednesday.
Both teams come in with undefeated preseasons to this point and both will be playing their second game at the Staples Center in that span. The Clippers are coming off wins in Hawaii against the Sydney Kings of the NBL, at the Staples Center versus the Timberwolves, and in Anaheim against the Lakers.
The Nuggets, meanwhile, defeated the Lakers twice in Southern California before returning to the Mile High City for a wake-up-call style tight victory against the Perth Wildcats of the NBL.
With the regular season essentially one week away the time for sloppy preseason performances is over. For whatever minutes the starters and rotation players get tonight it must be treated as a dress rehearsal. Here are some ways the Nuggets can accomplish that tonight.
Get Jokic and Murray involved early
Jokic and Murray shot a combined 2 for 9 Friday night at the Pepsi Center including 0 for 4 from the 3-point line. The Nuggets have to make a conscious effort to get the Joker and Blue Arrow going early tonight, preferably inside-out. Marcin Gortat is out tonight, meaning Jokic will likely see a lot of fellow Serbian Boban Marjanovic. Hopefully Jokic can use his familiarity to get to the rim and the free throw line and build a rhythm for himself and others.
Jamal has had an up and down preseason to this point while nursing a minor ankle injury, but figures to be a full go tonight again. Similar to Jokic, it’d be nice to see Jamal get his shot going early on and then deferring to guys like Harris, Barton, and Millsap who are more adept at fitting in to the offense or in Barton’s case getting going in a short period of time.
Keep the bench momentum rolling
The Nuggets bench has been far and away the best thing to come out of the preseason so far. Mason Plumlee has been great since having an off-season to get healthy and work on his game, especially from the free throw line. Malik Beasley has gotten hot from the 3-point line, shooting 11 for 16 from deep in three preseason games. Monte Morris has fit right in to the rotation recording a 17:5 assist to turnover ratio in various roles as a starter and off the bench. Trey Lyles and Torrey Craig have also come up big in their roles, contributing to a bench unit that has significantly outperformed the opponents and even the starters at times this preseason.
Show some defensive intensity (and intensity overall)
The Perth win was a wake up call for many reasons, but perhaps one of the most disappointing things to come out of that game was that the Nuggets were outscored in the second and third quarters by giving up 25 and 29 points respectively. When Malone was asked about the overall performance after the game he talked about how he’s been woken up since the regular season elimination game loss to the Timberwolves in April as if to question why his team lacked intensity this close to the regular season.
The Nuggets will have a chance tonight to answer to one of their bigger lapses from last season. In the second game of the three game series with the Clippers last season the Nuggets held multiple 10 point leads before surrendering both on their way to a 2-point loss. Boban Marjanovic scored 18 on a +27 +/- that was devastating for a Denver defense that couldn’t stop him. Tonight Marjanovic figures to play a fair amount of minutes, it’s time for Denver to step up tonight and show that they’re ready for the regular season to start next week.