Preview: Denver Nuggets return home to face Memphis Grizzlies

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@EricSpyrosNBA

It would be hard to ask for two better performances from the Denver Nuggets following the loss of Jamal Murray to a knee injury last week.

Denver easily defeated the Miami Heat and Houston Rockets to end the week, and now return home for a matchup against a streaking Memphis Grizzlies squad.

The Nuggets (36-20) continue to receive strong performances from Nikola Jokić and Michael Porter Jr., who have led the way since Murray went down a week ago. Denver’s second unit has also thrived as of late, scoring 100 points over the past two games combined.

MORE: Takeaways from win over Rockets

Memphis (29-26) is on a surge as of late, going 6-3 over the past two weeks, a stretch in which the Grizzlies own the league’s top-ranked offense (per Cleaning the Glass). However, throughout the season it has been Memphis’ defense that has carried them, as Taylor Jenkins’ squad ranks seventh in defensive rating on the year.

These two teams faced off a little more than a month ago, where the Nuggets escaped with a 103-102 victory on the road.

Projected starters: Facundo Campazzo, Will Barton III, Michael Porter Jr., Aaron Gordon, Nikola Jokić

Injury report:

JAMAL MURRAY – LEFT ACL INJURY. OUT.

MONTE MORRIS – RIGHT HAMSTRING STRAIN. OUT.

TUNE-IN: 7 p.m. MT, Altitude TV and 92.5FM

Key matchup: Nikola Jokić vs. Jonas Valančiūnas

As Memphis has climbed up the standings recently, Valančiūnas has played a key role as a dependable option on offense. The 28-year-old big man has increased his production over the last 10 games, averaging 20.6 points and 12.5 rebounds per game on 67.7 percent shooting from the field.

During this same stretch, Jokić has continued to play at an MVP level, averaging 22 points, 10.4 rebounds, and 10.4 assists per game on 54.5 percent shooting from the field. In the first meeting between these two teams, Jokić outdueled Valančiūnas, dropping 28 points, 15 rebounds, and seven assists compared to 14 points and 11 rebounds for the Lithuanian big man.

Memphis relies on Valančiūnas to create offense in the halfcourt, an area the Grizzlies have struggled in this season. If Jokić and the Nuggets can limit Valančiūnas’ effectiveness Monday, it will go a long way in slowing down the Grizzlies offense.

Take care of the ball

Another key way that Denver can slow down Memphis’ offense starts on the offensive side of the ball itself for the Nuggets.

As mentioned earlier, Memphis has been an elite defensive team this season, and a large portion of the success on that end of the floor can be traced to above-average rebounding and forcing turnovers. The Grizzlies rank seventh in the league in opponent turnover percentage (15.1 percent), which they use to fuel their transition attack.

Memphis has the 23rd-ranked offense in the halfcourt, which makes it no surprise that the Grizzlies look to push the pace and attack in transition often. Memphis ranks sixth in the frequency of possessions that begin with a transition play and have been especially effective running off steals.

The Grizzlies rank second in the league in points per 100 possessions added through transition plays coming off a steal, making it imperative that Denver takes care of the ball Monday. On the season, the Nuggets rank 13th in turnover percentage, turning it over on 13.7 percent of their possessions.

The battle in the mid-range

Memphis and Denver share some common traits on the offensive end, which will likely be reflected in the shot charts during Monday’s game.

Both teams don’t rely on rim attacks or 3-pointers to fuel offense, instead of focusing on attacking from the mid-range. Memphis ranks fifth in the frequency of shot attempts coming from the mid-range (37 percent), while Denver isn’t too far behind at ninth (33.9 percent).

Both teams have also converted at a high rate from that area of the floor, as the Nuggets have shot 45.3 percent in the mid-range (which ranks fourth in the league), while the Grizzlies have connected on 43.6 percent, which ranks ninth.

Denver may have a slight advantage in this mid-range matchup, as teams have connected on 43.9 percent of their mid-range attempts against Memphis this season, which places the Grizzlies 27th in the league in defending the mid-range.

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