10:00 PM EST, TNT – Line: Nuggets -4.5, Over/Under: 226.5
Roughly a month in and it’s clear that the 2020-2021 NBA Season is not what we expected, as most teams have been wide of expectations, which is the case with tonight’s contest as the Golden State Warriors face off against the Denver Nuggets from Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado. After a season ravaged by injuries left them circling the drain in the Western Conference, and being dealt a crippling blow in the Offseason in the form of (All-Star Guard) Klay Thompson’s torn Achilles, the Warriors (6-5, 7th in Western Conference) weren’t expected to do much this season, certainly falling short of the championship standard that they had established from 2015 to 2019. Indeed, Golden State ruled the National Basketball Association during that period, advancing to five consecutive NBA Finals, in which they amassed three Larry O’Brien trophies. However, following their final jaunt to the Finals it became clear that their era of dominance had come to an end. Significant injuries to both Thompson (ACL) and (former MVP) Kevin Durant (Achilles) played a major role in their defeat in the 2019 NBA Finals, leading to the latter’s departure in Free Agency to the Brooklyn Nets, while the former sat out the entirety of the ensuing campaign rehabbing from injury. Furthermore, (Two-time MVP) Steph Curry (27.8 PTS, 43.0% FG, 36.9% 3FG, 5.1 REB, 6.4 AST, 1.2 STL, 22.9 PER) suffered a broken hand just four games into the 2019-2020 season, ultimately sidelining him for fifty-eight consecutive games, as the team languished to a 15-50 record, their worst since the turn of the century. Now with Thompson once again on the mend, Steve Kerr’s charges entered this season looking for a fresh start, authoring a new chapter in their story; in an attempt to rebuild around a healthy Curry, the Dubs utilized the Third Overall Pick in the 2020 NBA Draft to select (Center) James Wiseman (10.6 PTS, 47.1% FG, 6.4 REB, 1.5 BLK, 12.6 PER) out of Memphis, while filling out the supporting cast with low-cost options such as Kelly Oubre (10.8 PTS, 35.3% FG, 17.2% 3FG, 5.5 REB, 0.9 AST, 1.3 STL, 7.9 PER) and Kent Bazemore (5.1 PTS, 50.0% FG, 46.7% 3FG, 2.8 REB, 2.1 AST, 12.0 PER). Though the fit is a far cry from the stellar rotations at his disposal, Kerr must be happy to see his charges gelling into a cohesive unit, one that has managed to win overachieve in the always-crowded Western Conference, six of their last nine outings, including four out of five before Tuesday’s defeat against the Indiana Pacers (more on that shortly). During that particular stretch they’ve begun to resemble a much more efficient offensive attack, averaging a solid 119.2 points per game on 48.7% shooting from the field, including 39.7% from beyond the arc, where they’ve outscored the opposition by a margin of 9.0 points. To the surprise of absolutely nobody, Curry has been carrying them with the six-time All-NBA selection in the midst of what looks to be a veritable revenge tour; the 32-year old has averaged 30.8 points per contest on 44.3% shooting from the floor, including a scorching 41.4% from downtown, along with 5.8 rebounds, and 6.8 assists, highlighted by a season-high SIXTY-TWO points in a 137-122 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on January 3rd, and thirty-eight in the second meeting of a home-and-home with the Los Angeles Clippers, in which he led his side back from a 22-point deficit to win 115-105. If nothing else, this season should be a fascinating one for the simple fact that Curry will be largely on his own, for without Thompson to flank him he’s really the only consistent scoring threat in the rotation, and without the threat of shooting to space the court, it will be easier for defenses to key on the Guard, meaning that he’ll have to work much harder for his production. You can see it already through the first eleven games; apart from his injury-riddled 2019-2020, Curry’s field goal percentage (43.0%) and three-point percentage (36.9%) are by far and away the worst of his career thus far.
When we last saw the Warriors, they concluded a seven-game homestand with a thud as they lost to the Pacers, 104-95 on Tuesday Night. After being relegated to a season-low eleven points on a dismal 2-of-16 shooting (21.5%) in a win over the Toronto Raptors, Curry found more success against Indiana, but was still dogged throughout the contest. The visitors relentlessly hounded him with a unique box-and-one look that relegated him to twenty points on 7-of-17 shooting from the field (41.2%), including 3-of-8 from three (37.5%). In times like this, the supporting cast has to carry their weight, and for the most part they did precisely that; (Former No. One Pick) Andrew Wiggins (17.9 PTS, 43.1% FG, 39.3% 3FG, 4.8 REB, 2.5 AST, 1.8 BLK, 13.6 PER) scored a team-high twenty-two points on 7-of-17 shooting (41.2%), including 4-of-9 from deep (44.4%), and logged a career-best five blocks, while the aforementioned Oubre chipped in with seventeen points and Damion Lee (7.5 PTS, 47.4% FG, 45.7% 3FG, 3.5 REB, 1.4 AST, 14.5 PER) added a dozen off the bench. After falling behind 34-32 in the Second Quarter, the home side erupted for a 16-5 run to take a nine-point lead, but they simply couldn’t maintain their advantage for long, as Indiana saw Justin Holiday and Myles Turner drain back-to-back threes, before Aaron Holiday built upon their newfound lead with a layup on the following possession, outscoring them 31-20 in the final stanza. In the end, the Warriors shot a miserable 38.6% from the floor, including 13-of-38 from beyond the arc (34.2%), were outrebounded 50-46, and dismantled in the paint where they were outscored 56-34. Wiseman struggled with foul trouble throughout the affair, logging just 26:03 of action with eight points, nine rebounds, and a pair of blocks. The other major issue was turnovers, which have always been prevalent when discussing this team and their free-flowing nature when in possession; Kerr’s troops committed sixteen on the night in comparison to Indiana’s fourteen, but their opponent capitalized far more often, scoring twenty-four in comparison to thirteen for the Dubs. Now, they’ll be kicking off a four-game road trip with a venture to Mile High; Golden State split their two Regular Season meetings with Denver last season, but managed to defeat them handedly no their homecourt in a 116-100 affair on March 3rd, a game in which the hosts couldn’t throw the basketball into the ocean, shooting 44.8% from the field, including a dismal 3-of-20 from three (15.0%), while the visitors shot a blistering 51.2% overall and 18-of-41 from deep (43.9%), assisting on thirty-one of their forty-two field goals without Curry, who was still rehabbing from his broken hand.
Meanwhile, with it seeming like the previous season ended just last week, the Nuggets (5-6, 9th in Western Conference) have been one of many teams struggling to find consistency in this abridged 2020-2021 campaign. To the surprise of many, Denver advanced all the way to the Western Conference Finals, coming back from a 3-1 deficit in each of the first two rounds of the Playoffs, which included a MASSIVE upset of the heavily-favored Los Angeles Clippers, before finally running out of gas against the Lakers, who eliminated them in five games. Needless to say, it was a huge for step for a young team desperately trying to make headway in the always-crowded West, with a young nucleus of talent that only figured to continue to grow into the future. (All-Star Center) Nikola Jokic (24.3 PTS, 57.6% FG, 41.2% 3FG, 10.9 REB, 10.5 AST, 1.8 STL, 30.9 PER) may be the single most unique talent that the Association has seen at his position in the last twenty years, while the sharpshooting (Guard) Jamal Murray (19.7 PTS, 47.7% FG, 38.7% 3FG, 2.9 REB, 3.8 AST, 0.9 STL, 15.8 PER) emerged as a prolific scorer during his die’s time in Orlando. Furthermore, Mike Malone’s charges have the exponential growth of one, Michael Porter Jr. (19.5 PTS, 56.6% FG, 42.3% 3FG, 6.8 REB, 1.8 AST, 1.0 STL, 1.5 BLK, 26.5 PER), who played a larger role for the team after missing the entirety of his rookie season rehabbing from back surgery. So again, the Nuggets have had much higher expectations placed on them heading into this season, with many pundits pointing to their youth and depth as being advantage in this historically-short turnaround from one season to the next; the NBA Finals ended in early October, with Denver playing it’s final game in the Bubble on September 26th, 2020 meaning that they enjoyed just eighty-eight days before this current season began on December 23rd. Eleven games in and it’s clear that there is still much rom for improvement, though their quality, particularly on the offensive end of the court, remains apparent; Malone’s troops have averaged 116.5 points per game (5th overall) on a league-best 49.4% shooting from the field (1st Overall), including 38.4% from beyond the arc (9th Overall), while dishing out a healthy 27.2 assists (3rd Overall), and posting a stellar offensive rebounding percentage of 24.6% (5th Overall). Depth has clearly been a strength with Malone willing to dive deep into his rotation, as eight players have scored in double-digits thus far, led by Jokic who has remarkably AVERAGED a triple-double thus far, leading the team in points (24.3) rebounds (10.9), assists (10.5), and steals (1.8). It’s rare to see a 7-0, 284 lb specimen playing the role of facilitator in any era of basketball, but the Serbian international has proven very comfortable running the Offense as a proverbial Point-Center. With all that said, the question that is going to continue to linger with this group is their play on the defensive end, which at times in the Postseason was laughably bad, and still remains a legitimate concern in the early stages of this new year. The Nuggets have allowed 113.6 points per game (23rd Overall) on 48.3% shooting from the floor (26th Overall), including 39.0% from downtown (25th Overall), while permitting 26.8 assists (25th Overall), with a very poor defensive rebounding percentage of 75.4% (28th Overall). This is certainly the case in their six losses, in which they’ve been torched for 120.3 points on an unacceptable 50.6% shooting overall, including 43.1% from deep, and 29.0 assists, which is night and day then their showing in their five wins in which they’ve yielded a much more palatable 105.6 points on 45.5% shooting, including 33.7% from three, and 24.2 assists.
When we last saw the Nuggets, they saw their bid for a three-game winning streak, which would have been their longest of the campaign, come to an end in disappointing fashion as they wasted an 18-point lead in a 122-116 defeat at the Brooklyn Nets. Denver led 70-54 at Halftime of Tuesday night’s affair, but the hosts rallied back with a vengeance thanks to a 36-20 Third Quarter which consisted of a ridiculous 29-4 that lasted well into the final period. It’s not often that you see a team lose when shooting 50.0% from the field and 18-of-37 from beyond the arc (48.6%), but that was case for Malone’s outfit, whose inconsistent effort on the defensive end once again cost them a victory. Without (All-Star Point Guard) Kyrie Irving, Brooklyn still caught fire en route to shooting an insane 60.8% from the floor and 16-of-32 from downtown (50.0%), while dishing out thirty-one assists, and outrebounding their opponent 41-33. Then again, when you have a former MVP like Kevin Durant on your side, anything is possible, with the four-time scoring champion totaling thirty-four points, nine rebounds, and thirteen assists, sinking 12-of-18 attempts from the field (66.7%), including 4-of-7 from long-range (57.1%). Jokic led the way with twenty-three points, with thirteen of that total coming in the First Quarter alone, along with eight rebounds, eleven assists, and seven steals, but was left visibly frustrated by the sudden turn in momentum, kicking over a chair in disgust during that aforementioned run blitzkrieg. (Veteran Guard) Will Barton (11.6 PTS, 42.2% FG, 38.1% 3FG, 4.3 REB, 2.8 AST, 1.2 STL, 13.3 PER) and Murray combined for forty-two points on 17-of-34 shooting, with the former draining 6-of-8 from three (75.0%), while (young Guard) Monte Morris (11.4 PTS, 52.8% FG, 37.8% 3FG, 2.2 REB, 3.2 AST, 0.9 STL, 17.9 PER) added fourteen points off the bench. It should be stated that Malone did not have a full complement of players due to COVID-19, with the skipper confirming that Porter Jr. had tested positive, while (veteran Guard) Gary Harris (10.6 PTS, 46.2% FG, 26.8% 3FG, 2.3 REB, 1.4 AST, 1.0 STL, 9.6 PER) sat out due to personal reasons. Both players are expected to miss tonight’s meeting with the Warriors, with the former out indefinitely due to the virus.