Preview: Denver Nuggets take on Boston Celtics as East road trip continues

by Alex Labidou
Nuggets.com Staff Writer
@LabidouA

The Nuggets (14-5) broke out of their early-season offensive struggles in a big way against the Knicks Thursday and will look to build momentum when they travel 200 miles north to face the Boston Celtics (15-5) Friday.

Denver torched New York 129-92 at Madison Square Garden in its second-largest road win in regular season franchise history. It was a tremendous bounce-back performance for Michael Malone’s team, which saw eight players score in double digits. However, context is key, especially considering the Knicks are the worst team in the Eastern Conference. Can Denver’s newfound scoring touch continue at the TD Garden?

The Nuggets can likely take confidence from their first encounter against the Celtics at Pepsi Center on Nov. 22. Denver held a 47-34 lead at halftime against the visitors and appeared to be heading for an easy win. Boston rallied in the second half after what initially looked like a significant injury to Kemba Walker, but the Nuggets held on for a 96-92 win.

Fortunately for Boston, the injury to Walker wasn’t serious as he only missed one game. Since his return, he’s been averaging 25 points, 6.8 assists and 5.0 rebounds while shooting an impressive 42.1 percent from downtown. The Celtics have also won four of their last five games and are 8-0 at home.

Friday’s matchup should be a good one.

TUNE IN: 6 p.m. MT, TV: ALTITUDE, ESPN, RADIO: KKSE 92.5FM/950AM

Projected starters: Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Will Barton, Paul Millsap, Nikola Jokić

Here’s what to watch for:

Get the ball to Nikola early and often

Nikola Jokić scored just six points against the Knicks Thursday, but he still had one of his most productive games of the season – adding 10 rebounds and eight assists with zero turnovers.

The Knicks might be struggling at the moment, but they do have a lot of length in their frontcourt. Against Boston, Jokić could find his comfort zone against a team that doesn’t have many defensive options at center.

In the Nov. 22 encounter, Jokic was up against the 6-foot-8 Daniel Theis and Enes Kanter and largely feasted – going for a triple-double with 18 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists. The Nuggets should look to exploit that matchup again on Friday.

Another player who could benefit is Paul Millsap, who dropped 14 points and 10 boards in the previous contest between the two teams.

Can the bench continue trending upward?

Denver’s second unit has come alive during the last four games and a lot of that comes from Malik Beasley’s return to the rotation.

Beasley scored 14 points on 5-of-9 shooting against the Knicks and is averaging 9.2 points while shooting 64.2 percent from downtown. Jerami Grant, who appears to be finding some consistency on offense recently, has also been a standout. In his last four games, Grant is averaging 13.5 points per game on 54.2 percent shooting.

Mason Plumlee also deserves praise as he’s averaging 10.8 points and 7.8 rebounds on 70 percent shooting. The Nuggets will need more of the same if they want to pull off a win at the Celtics, a team that is dominant at home.

Control the paint

Boston is a below-average team when it comes to hitting threes (22nd in the NBA in three-point percentage), using drives to the rim (10th) to score or create chances.

Considering the Nuggets’ advantage in size and length, they could have an edge defensively in preventing those drives. The Celtics score 27.2 points a game off of drives to the rim (seventh) and if the Nuggets can slow them down in that area, it would force the Celtics to take more outside shots – an area they aren’t as efficient in.

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