Preview: Denver Nuggets look to snap losing streak in Cleveland

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@EricSpyrosNBA

A slight change in the schedule led to the Denver Nuggets shifting their travel schedule, as they head to Cleveland to take on the Cavaliers on Friday in place of a previously scheduled contest against the Charlotte Hornets.

A matchup against a struggling Cavaliers squad could be just what the doctor ordered for the Nuggets, who are looking to avoid a second three-game losing streak this month. Denver (15-13) is coming off back-to-back losses earlier this week to the Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards. The Nuggets were missing key rotation players in both contests but received quality performances from Nikola Jokić and Jamal Murray on both nights.

MORE: Three takeaways from loss to Wizards

Meanwhile, Cleveland (10-19) has lost eight in-a-row and has fallen to 30th in the league in net-rating (negative-9.3). The Cavaliers continue to struggle mightily on the offensive end of the floor, posting the league’s lowest offensive rating at 105.1 points per 100 possessions. Cleveland has lost each of its past four games by at least 15 points, which includes a 133-95 loss to the Nuggets at Ball Arena back on Feb. 10.

Projected starters: Monte Morris, Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr., JaMychal Green, Nikola Jokić

Injury report:

GREG WHITTINGTON – LEFT KNEE ARTHROSCOPY. OUT.

P.J. DOZIER – RIGHT HAMSTRING STRAIN. OUT.

PAUL MILLSAP – LEFT KNEE SPRAIN. OUT.

GARY HARRIS – LEFT ADDUCTOR STRAIN. OUT.

WILL BARTON III – PERSONAL REASONS. QUESTIONABLE.

JAMYCHAL GREEN – RIGHT SHOULDER STRAIN. PROBABLE.

TUNE IN: 5 p.m. MT, Altitude TV and 92.5FM

Key matchup: Nikola Jokić vs. Jarrett Allen

With reports that the Cavaliers and Andre Drummond have agreed to sit him out of games while the team looks to potentially move him to a team in playoff contention, Allen has stepped up into the starting role and continues to showcase the potential as a rim-running big man who can protect the basket.

As a starter this season, Allen has averaged 15 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks per game on 65.5 percent shooting from the field.

Meanwhile, Jokić has continued to put up MVP numbers as of late, with averages of 28.9 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 8.6 assists per game in eight February contests.

Across two matchups against Allen this season, the Serbian big man has shot 57.1 percent (12-of-21) from the field when directly defended by Allen, highlighting the success that Jokić has had against Cleveland’s new starting center.

Take care of the ball

It’s no secret that Cleveland’s offense has struggled so far this season. Specifically focusing on halfcourt offensive numbers, Cleveland’s offensive rating of 85.9 in halfcourt offensive possessions is last in the league and over 10 points per 100 possessions behind the league average offensive rating in such situations.

To try and make up for this, the Cavaliers look to generate turnovers and run in transition. Cleveland’s defense ranks fourth in the league in opponent turnover percentage, forcing teams to cough it up on 15.5 percent of their possessions. This fuels Cleveland’s transition game, where the Cavaliers rank fourth in the frequency of transition plays coming after a steal, and first in points added per 100 possessions from transition plays that come after a steal.

Now, Denver has been good about valuing each possession (the Nuggets rank ninth in turnover percentage this season), but any sloppy play that gives Cleveland an advantage in transition could be just what the Cavaliers need to pull off the upset on Friday.

Keep Cleveland off the offensive glass

As mentioned earlier, the Cavaliers have struggled on the offensive end of the floor. Cleveland ranks near or at the bottom of the league in effective field-goal percentage, turnover percentage, and free throw rate.

The Cavaliers rarely shoot 3-pointers and have struggled to knock them down (35 percent as a team, ranked 28th in the league).

However, one area that Cleveland looks to attack regularly is around the basket and on the offensive glass. Although they don’t finish well at the rim, the Cavaliers rank third in the frequency of shot attempts coming from within four feet of the hoop and have had a propensity to clean up their misses on the boards.

Cleveland ranks second in the league in offensive rebound percentage, grabbing a rebound on 29 percent of their missed shots this season. On the other end of the floor, Denver has been a good, but not great defensive rebounding team, allowing opponents to grab an offensive rebound on 25 percent of their missed shots, which ranks 13th.

Although the Feb. 10 contest wasn’t competitive in the end, Cleveland did manage to grab 18 offensive rebounds in the loss. If the Cavaliers force turnovers and dominate on the offensive glass, those are two potential ingredients in another Nuggets loss on Friday.

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