Preview: Denver Nuggets face Kevin Durant-led Brooklyn Nets to finish out East Coast Road Trip

by Alex Labidou
Nuggets.com Staff Writer
@LabidouA

The Denver Nuggets (5-5) got one of their best wins of the season against the New York Knicks. They hope to have a Big Apple sweep when they face New York’s star-studded neighbors, the Brooklyn Nets (5-6).

Injuries and availability appear to have slowed down the Nets, who have looked dominant at times when they’ve had their full contingent with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving leading the group. The problem is the two stars haven’t played together much.

Out of the Nets’ 11 games, the duo has played six games together, going 3-3. Both Durant and Irving have appeared in seven games, but almost in a staggered fashion. Spencer Dinwiddie’s season-ending ACL injury has also been a blow for the team as the guard was arguably the Nets’ best player last year. Still, this is a team that has quality depth with players like Caris LeVert and Joe Harris and will be boosted with Durant back in the mix.

The Nuggets enter Tuesday’s playing some of their best basketball of the early part of the season. Denver is 4-1 in its last five games and its defense is slowing returning to its best. After starting in the bottom five in defensive rating, the team is 15th  at 108.2 in its last five games. With the firepower at Brooklyn’s disposal, the group will need to continue trending in the right direction in that area to secure a victory at the Barclays Center.

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

INJURY REPORT:

NOT WITH TEAM:

Michael Porter Jr., Health and Safety Protocols

OUT

Greg Whittington, Left Knee Sprain

TUNE IN: 5:30 p.m. MT, ALTITUDE

Here are the storylines:

Key Matchup: Will Barton III vs. Kevin Durant

Kevin Durant rarely has a bad game and the Nuggets will likely need a full team effort to slow the Nets’ all-world forward down.

Durant has shown no ill-effects from the ACL injury he suffered during the 2019 NBA Finals and is currently second in the league in scoring at 29.3 points on 51.6 percent shooting. He’s also been a factor on the glass and assists, averaging 7.6 rebounds and 4.7 assists. After spending most of his career at small forward, he’s been primarily lining up at power forward for Brooklyn.

Will Barton III will likely get the first shot at covering Durant, but the Nuggets will probably also utilize a mix of Gary Harris, Paul Millsap, JaMychal Green, and P.J. Dozier on Durant. After a slow start to the season, Barton III has gotten it going during the Nuggets’ recent success. The small forward is averaging 11 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 3.6 assists while shooting 42.9 percent. He’s also been a factor on defense, adding 1.2 steals and helping Harris in taking on difficult assignments.

Can Jamal Murray get back to his best?

Jamal Murray had a 36-point outburst to spark the beginning of the run the Nuggets are currently on. He’s been relatively quiet on offense since.

Denver’s lead guard is averaging 14.3 points per game while shooting 45.7 percent from the field and 35.0 in his last four games. The shooting percentages aren’t horrible, which points to a larger issue: Volume.

Murray is taking just 11.5 shots per game in that span, including two outings against the T’wolves and the Knicks where he took less than 10 shots. The other area that has dipped has been on the glass. Murray is averaging just 1.5 boards during that same stretch. He averages 3.6 on his career and collected 4.8 during last season’s preseason For a player who raised expectations in the bubble with an absolutely incredible run in Orlando, the Nuggets will need more aggressiveness if they want to build on last season.  

Don’t sleep on the Nets’ supporting cast

LeVert has quietly been one of the NBA’s top young players over the past three seasons, a rare player who can impact both sides of the floor. With Irving out due to personal reasons, the 6-foot-6 LeVert will man the point guard position for the Nets Tuesday night. He’s coming off a 43-point and six assist outing against Memphis on Jan. 8 and he can be just as dangerous on the other end. He joins Joe Harris and Jarrett Allen as significant reasons why the Nets are fourth in net rating, pun intended, at 5.3 despite the team being under .500.

Jarett Allen is in the midst of a breakout season, averaging career highs of 11.6 points, 10.9 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks while shooting 69.5 percent shooting. He’s doing all of that while largely coming off the bench for Steve Nash’s team.

Harris remains one of the deadliest shooters in all of the NBA, shooting 50.8 percent from downtown while not being a liability on the other end. If Nuggets focus too much attention on Durant, it could be at their peril. They will have to ensure LeVert, Harris, and Allen don’t get going early.

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