Preview: Denver Nuggets return home to face surging Knicks

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@EricSpyrosNBA

The Denver Nuggets’ winning streak ran into a formidable foe Monday night in Los Angeles as the Lakers used stifling defense to limit Denver’s offense, resulting in a 93-89 defeat for the Mile High squad.

Although Nikola Jokić put forth his best effort with 32 points and nine rebounds, the Serbian big man had to do it on 28 shot attempts and was constantly presented with multiple defenders. 6-of-24 3-point shooting also didn’t help Denver, who fell to 43-22 heading into a crucial stretch of games to end this week.

MORE: Takeaways from loss to Lakers

The Nuggets return home to take on a surging New York Knicks squad that is 9-1 in its last 10 games. New York (37-28) has jumped up to fourth in the Eastern Conference and has posted the league’s best net rating over the past two weeks, mainly a result of owning the league’s top-ranked offense during that stretch.

Denver won the first meeting between these two teams 114-89 back on Jan. 10 and has won the past six games in the series dating back to the 2017-18 season.

Projected starters: Facundo Campazzo, Austin Rivers, Michael Porter Jr., Aaron Gordon, Nikola Jokić

Injury report:

NIKOLA JOKIĆ - RIGHT TOE SORENESS. PROBABLE.

ZEKE NNAJI - LEFT ANKLE SPRAIN. PROBABLE.

PJ DOZIER - RIGHT ADDUCTOR STRAIN. OUT.

JAMAL MURRAY – LEFT ACL SURGERY. OUT.

MONTE MORRIS – RIGHT HAMSTRING STRAIN. OUT.

WILL BARTON III – RIGHT HAMSTRING STRAIN. OUT.

TUNE-IN: 7 p.m. MT, Altitude 2 and 92.5FM

Key matchup: Aaron Gordon vs. Julius Randle

The major story coming out of New York (besides Tom Thibodeau’s turnaround of the Knicks’ defense) has been Randle’s breakout All-Star campaign. The 26-year-old has posted career highs across the board this season (24.2 points, 10.3 rebounds, and 5.9 assists per game on 42.7 percent shooting from beyond the arc) and has been the engine for New York’s offense.

Randle has even increased that production during this late-season surge for the Knicks, averaging 30.7 points per game over the last 10 contests. In the first meeting against Denver, Randle scored 29 points on 11-of-16 shooting from the field.

Gordon will be tasked with making life difficult for Randle, so it was encouraging to see the 25-year-old tie a career-high with four blocks Monday night, including two against Anthony Davis. In two previous meetings against the Knicks this season, Gordon showcased his versatile offensive game as well, averaging 17.5 points, 11 rebounds, and 8.5 assists per game.

Defending the 3-point line

Denver and New York operate similarly offensively, with an emphasis placed on mid-range shots. Neither team attacks the basket or fires away from beyond the arc at a high frequency, but both teams have been deadly from downtown this season, making Wednesday’s matchup an interesting 3-point shooting battle.

New York ranks 27th in 3-point attempts per game (29.8) but third in percentage (39.8), while Denver ranks 17th in attempts per game (33.9) and seventh in percentage (37.9). The two teams are also similar on the defensive end in that they both give up a healthy number of 3-point attempts, ranking 23rd and 24th, respectively, in opponent 3-point attempt frequency.

One key difference is that although the Knicks have given up plenty of attempts, teams have struggled to connect from deep against them, shooting just 33.8 percent on the season, the lowest in the league. Opponents have hit 37 percent of their 3-point attempts against Denver this season, which ranks 12th in the league.

Get Porter Jr. back on track

Monday night certainly wasn’t Michael Porter Jr.’s favorite game of the season. The Lakers made it a point of emphasis to lock in on the 22-year-old forward and limit his effectiveness. Los Angeles was physical on defense and focused on taking away Porter Jr.’s cutting opportunities, which severely limited his ability to contribute in the first half.

Although Porter Jr. finished with 19 points on 53.3 percent shooting from the field, he played 40 minutes in his effort to do so and shot just 28.6 percent from beyond the arc. For a player who had scored at least 23 points in each of his previous six games, it was a cool down for Porter Jr., who will look to bounce back Wednesday in his first game against the Knicks this season.

Although New York doesn’t boast elite wing defense, the Knicks have certainly made life difficult for opposing offenses, making Wednesday’s contest a nice challenge for Porter Jr. and the Nuggets.

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