Preview: Denver Nuggets kick off road trip against Boston Celtics

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@EricSpyrosNBA

Following a successful 3-1 homestand last week, the Denver Nuggets look to build on that momentum as they embark on a four-game road trip on the east coast.

Denver (15-11) secured perhaps its most impressive victory of the season Sunday, defeating the Los Angeles Lakers 122-105. Yes, Anthony Davis missed the second half of the game due to injury, but the Nuggets came into the night without Gary Harris, Will Barton III, and PJ Dozier, and then lost Paul Millsap to a left knee strain at halftime.

MORE: Three takeaways from win over Lakers

Now Denver must look to capitalize on the impressive victory against several Eastern Conference teams fighting for playoff positioning. That task begins with a matchup against the slumping Boston Celtics on Tuesday.

Boston (13-13) is just 3-7 in its last 10 games, with some head-scratching losses to teams near the bottom of the standings. Kemba Walker has struggled as of late, while the Celtics aren’t getting significant production from their second unit.

Both teams are dealing with injury issues, with notable players such as Marcus Smart, Gary Harris, Will Barton III, and Paul Millsap all declared out for Tuesday's contest.

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.

GARY HARRIS – LEFT ADDUCTOR STRAIN. OUT.

WILL BARTON III – PERSONAL REASONS. OUT.

PAUL MILLSAP – LEFT KNEE SPRAIN. OUT.

MONTE MORRIS – RIGHT SHOULDER STRAIN. QUESTIONABLE.

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

Key matchup: Jamal Murray vs. Kemba Walker

As mentioned earlier, Walker has had a very slow start to the season, with averages of just 16.3 points and four assists per game on 36.3 percent shooting from the field. That shooting percentage has even dipped to 33.3 percent over the past 10 games.

However, the four-time All-Star has scored 46 points over his past two games and has hit 41.3 percent from beyond the arc in six games this month. Despite his struggles this season, Walker is capable of taking over a game with his dynamic scoring ability, making it imperative that Denver locks in defensively.

Meanwhile, Murray has bounced back with two solid performances to end Denver’s homestand. The 23-year-old guard followed up a 22-point, five-assist game against the Oklahoma City Thunder with 25 points against the Lakers on Sunday. The Nuggets need that level of performance from Murray on a nightly basis moving forward, especially given the team’s recent injury issues.

There could be plenty of fireworks on display between the two high-scoring guards on Tuesday, making it a fun matchup to lock in on.

Who will control the offensive glass?

When the Nuggets and Celtics match up on Tuesday, two of the best offensive rebounding teams in the league will be facing off. As of Monday afternoon, Denver ranks fourth in offensive rebound percentage at 28.7 percent, while Boston isn’t too far behind, ranking seventh at 27.8 percent.

On the other end of the floor, Denver has been a slightly better defensive rebounding squad, ranking 12th compared to Boston, which ranks 15th. The Celtics have opted to play a big starting lineup at times this season, with Tristan Thompson and Daniel Theis joining forces in the frontcourt to attack the offensive glass.

If one team creates a significant advantage on the offensive glass, it could go a long way in deciding Tuesday’s contest.

The battle in the mid-range

Tuesday’s matchup could serve as more of a throwback style of game, with both squads most comfortable operating in the mid-range as opposed to from beyond the arc or at the rim.

Boston ranks fifth in the league in the frequency of shot attempts coming from the mid-range, while Denver is also in the top half of the league, ranking 12th at 32.1 percent of its shot attempts coming from that area of the floor.

Both teams rank in the bottom half of the league in shot attempts coming at the rim, and although the Nuggets have increased their 3-point attempts this season, they are still right around league average in the frequency of shot attempts coming from downtown.

Denver might have the advantage in this mid-range battle, as it ranks seventh in field-goal percentage from that area of the floor this season (44 percent), compared to 40.9 percent for the Celtics, which ranks 21st in the league.

Finally, although both teams give up plenty of attempts from the mid-range (Denver ranks 21st in opponent shot-attempt frequency from that area of the floor while Boston ranks 25th), teams have converted at a much higher rate against the Celtics this season. Opponents have shot 43.8 percent on mid-range shots against Boston this year, compared to 41.1 percent against the Nuggets.

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