Preview: Denver Nuggets look to get back to winning ways against Nets

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@EricSpyrosNBA

Fireworks may be on the schedule at Pepsi Center this Thursday. With Kyrie Irving and the Brooklyn Nets making their lone visit to Denver, a matchup between Irving and Jamal Murray headlines a game between two teams that have gotten off to different starts.

Denver (7-3) is looking to bounce back from a surprising 125-121 loss to the Atlanta Hawks at Pepsi Center Tuesday. The Nuggets couldn’t contain Trae Young, who dropped 42 points and 11 assists in Atlanta’s victory.

The Nets enter Thursday’s game on a two-game losing streak and sit at a disappointing 4-6 to open the season. Unlike Denver, Brooklyn has relied on its offense to win games, as the Nets currently own the league’s fourth-ranked offense. Unfortunately, their 27th-ranked defense has failed them early in the 2019-20 campaign.

The Nets won both games against the Nuggets last season, including a nail-biter at Pepsi Center that Caris LeVert won with a last-second floater. LeVert will miss Thursday’s game with ligament damage in his right thumb.

Here are some keys to Thursday’s game:

Irving and Murray set to duel again

The last time Irving played in Pepsi Center, sparks flew as Murray dropped 48 points on Irving and the Celtics, which prompted a response from the Nets’ new point guard. Irving wasn’t pleased with Murray taking a shot near the final buzzer as he looked for his first 50-point game, so the New Jersey native threw the ball into the stands at the end of the game.

Irving is on a new team with new teammates, but he will likely be focused on one-upping Murray’s performance on Thursday. The 27-year-old has enjoyed a sensational start to the season with Brooklyn, as he is averaging 29.7 points, 7.0 assists and 5.3 rebounds per game heading into Thursday’s contest. As of this writing, Irving is questionable due to a right shoulder injury.

Meanwhile, Murray is also showcasing his growth and development in the early stages of the season, as he is averaging a career-high 18.7 points per game and has made his presence felt in the locker room and in-game huddles.

“I give him a lot of credit because he is embracing being a leader,” Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said after a practice last week. “He stepped up after the New Orleans game and spoke what was on his mind and on his heart. More importantly, he followed that up with his actions.”

Elite defense vs. elite offense

This game presents the classic case of a high-powered offense facing a lockdown defense. As mentioned earlier, the Nets have been thriving on the offensive end of the floor, while Denver has had a top-10 defense to begin the year. While the old adage is that defense wins championships, the NBA regular season is often defined by the best offenses in the league.

Brooklyn presents a tough challenge for the Nuggets with their star point guard leading the way for a very dynamic offense. The Nets rank second in the league in frequency of shots attempted at the rim, which is where Denver has struggled to defend this season. Brooklyn also ranks fifth in 3-point percentage, so look for them to hunt shots from deep. The Nuggets have impressed in defending mid-range jumpers and 3-pointers but shutting down Brooklyn’s offense will be one of the tougher challenges of the early season.

A battle on the boards could decide the game

While Brooklyn struggles with taking care of the ball or forcing turnovers, they excel on the boards. The Nets rank first in offensive rebound percentage, as they have grabbed 29.6 percent of their missed shots this season. On the defensive end, Brooklyn ranks 12th in opponent offensive rebound percentage.

Last season, the Nuggets thrived on the glass. However, it hasn’t been the same level of dominance to begin the 2019-20 campaign. While Denver is still in the top 10 in offensive rebound percentage, it is just 20th in keeping opponents off the offensive glass, which is an area the Nets will look to exploit. If the Nuggets can limit Brooklyn’s rebounding, Denver should be able to capitalize in the possession game and secure a home victory.

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

Thursday’s game will tip-off at 8:30 p.m. MT and will air on TNT (Radio: KKSE 92.5FM).

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