December 20, 2017, 7:29 pm
The Wolves begin their road trip in Denver where they will take on the Nuggets for the first time this season.
This past summer, in an effort to take the next step forward, the Nuggets signed star big man Paul Millsap to a lucrative contract with the hope he would solidify their defense and push them over the top as a playoff team.
It started off well enough, as Millsap was the best defender among the regular starting five and the team had a 9-6 record. Unfortunately for Denver Millsap went down with a serious wrist injury and will miss the next couple of months.
Since the injury Denver’s defense has fallen apart (though it wasn’t great in the first place), but the offense hasn’t skipped a beat. Star big man Nikola Jokic is the center of attention for the Nuggets’ offense when he’s healthy.
Jokic averages 15.3 points per game, 10.6 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game, the latter of which both lead the team. He also shoots 51 percent from the field, 39.7 percent from 3-point range (on 3.2 attempts) and 85.7 percent from the line. He’s a complete offensive package from the center or power forward position.
He has incredible ball handling skills and vision, which makes him dangerous in the open floor. He makes excellent passes regularly and loves to play with a certain flair. Often Jokic will bring the ball up the court himself and run the offense. He’s a spectacular player to watch.
He’s coming back from an injury and has been limited to the bench for a couple of games, though it seems like he’s going to get back into the starting five tonight.
Denver is much deeper than just Jokic too. Gary Harris, Jamal Murray and Will Barton all have great talent and are young players.
Harris is an extremely efficient wing shooter and chips in across the board. Murray is a talented scorer who’s considered the point guard, but is well suited off the ball. Jokic fits really well into his style as it takes the pressure off of running the team full time. Barton is another talented scorer from the wing.
The theme here should be obvious at this point. The Nuggets are a dangerous offensive team with a number of young guys that can beat teams in a number of different ways.
Defensively they can be beaten. Jokic especially is particularly vulnerable to getting beat and has proven in the past to struggle with physical bigs. That’s what Millsap was brought in for, but with him gone the Nuggets have turned to a combination of Plumlee and Faried to tackle more physical bigs.
This is going to be a tough matchup. Playing in Denver is challenging with the altitude adjustment, though at the beginning of a road trip it could be easier than at the end, or a second of a back-to-back. They are 11-2 in home games.
Denver is a balanced offensive team ranking in the top 12 in field goal and 3-point percentage. Their offensive rating ranks seventh in the NBA.
If their offense can be slowed a little bit they become very beatable. Their defense ranks 28th or lower in field goal percentage and 3-point percentage, while having an overall defensive rating ranking 22nd in the NBA.
Taj Gibson/Gorgui Dieng vs. Nikola Jokic
Jimmy Butler vs.
Gary HarrisJamal Murray/Will Barton
It will depend on whether Jokic comes off the bench or not, but whoever sees time on Jokic will have the greatest assignment of the night in stopping him. Jokic is such a focal point of the offense, he’s practically the engine the runs it.
Feeding Gibson or Dieng early and trying to get Jokic into foul trouble will be important. He’s prone to shying away from physicality, or making silly fouls.
On the perimeter Butler will once again take on the team’s best win player. With Harris now out, Denver will look to Murray and Barton a lot more. It’s never a night off or Jimmy G Buckets.
Jeff Teague – PG
Jimmy Butler – SG
Andrew Wiggins – SF
Taj Gibson – PF
Karl-Anthony Towns – C
Jamal Murray – PG
Torrey Craig – SG
Wilson Chandler – SF
Nikola Jokic – PF
Mason Plumlee – C
Nemanja Bjelica (foot) – OUT
Gary Harris (elbow) – OUT
Paul Millsap (wrist) – OUT
Emmanuel Mudiay (ankle) – OUT
Where to Watch:
9:00 ET/8:00 CT on Fox Sports North