Denver looks to get out to a 2-0 record for the first time in seven seasons
It's been 194 days since our last regular season game in Denver.
— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) October 20, 2018
If the Nuggets hope to end their six-season playoff drought this year, they need to take care of business on their home court. And Saturday night’s home opener provides a great opportunity to do precisely that.
The Suns kicked their season off nicely with Booker taking over in the fourth quarter against the Mavericks, leading the Suns to a 121-100 victory at home. But no one expects the Suns to make noise in the wild Western Conference this season. Denver, on the other hand, is another story.
After missing the playoffs by one game for each of the past two seasons, Denver got the band back together during the offseason, resigning Will Barton and extending Nikola Jokić’s contract. As a result, many experts anticipate that continuity, in addition to internal growth from some of Denver’s other young players, will ensure the Nuggets a playoff position come April. Expectations surrounding the Nuggets haven’t been this high in the Mile High City, or nationally, for many years.
The season-opening, come-from-behind victory on the road against a decent Los Angeles Clippers squad illustrated that this year’s version of the Nuggets may be more composed and mentally tough than recent iterations past. Even though the Nuggets were getting Boban’d and fell down late in the fourth quarter, they exhibited maturity and resilience, fighting back and pulling away with an 8-0 finishing stretch.
While the Clippers win certainly had many positives, there were also some reasons for concern. The offense wasn’t always the well-oiled machine we’ve come to expect from a Jokić-led unit, and the team struggled to make baskets for long stretches during the second half. While the shots may not have been falling, the Nuggets got timely defensive stops and are showing a toughness on the defensive end that has been sorely lacked for years.
Denver will need some of that defensive determination again tonight as they prepare for the high-octane Suns offense. The Suns dropped 121 on opening night, and Booker got off to a hot start, shooting a blistering 12/19 from the field on the way to 35 points and seven assists. Adding to Denver’s defensive worries is Phoenix’s propensity for getting their rookie big man Deandre Ayton involved. Ayton dropped and 18-10-6 stat line in his debut and showed everybody why he was the #1 overall pick.
The Suns new head coach, Serbian native Igor Kokoskov, is known for a creative offense, and the Suns certainly have the offensive weapons to make tonight’s contest one of Nuggets head coach Michael Malone’s favorites — a shootout at the OK corral. Despite their youth, I’d imagine the Booker-Ayton pick and roll strikes a bit more fear in defenses than anything the Clippers will roll out this season.
Denver was an impressive 31-10 at home last season, but two of their home losses last season came against teams with a sub.-500 record, including these Phoenix Suns (Atlanta was the other). Malone does not appear too troubled about tonight’s game, however.
“My concern level isn’t high, and the reason why is, one, it’s our home opener,” Malone said in a Denver Post article. “I’ve never seen a team come out flat in their home opener, and if you do that’s a real concern.”
Malone did point out that there are no easy games in the NBA’s rugged Western Conference though.
“Let’s be honest,” he added. “In the Western Conference, I don’t think there’s any weak team.”
While the Suns finished 21-61, they added some nice pieces during the offseason and should be a tougher out this year.
Tonight’s game tips off at 7 p.m. (MST) at Pepsi Center in Denver. The game will air on Altitude TV and on NBA League Pass.
PG – Isaiah Canaan
SG – Devin Booker
SF – Trevor Ariza
PF – Ryan Anderson
C – Deandre Ayton
PG – Jamal Murray
SG – Gary Harris
SF – Will Barton
PF – Paul Millsap
C – Nikola Jokić
The Nuggets opened as 10-point favorites for this game, but the Suns could be a tough matchup if the Nuggets struggle to score again. The team will face a much stiffer test on the defensive end, but if the Clippers game is any indication, the Nuggets have what it takes to slow teams down when it matters most.
I expect the Joker to have a solid night offensively and the team to come out with extra energy as “the Can” will be rocking for the first basketball game of the 2018-19 season. Both teams can put up points, Booker and Ayton will likely get theirs, and this game should be a shootout, but the Nuggets have matchup advantages all over the court and should pull away with the victory in the second half.