Preview: Denver Nuggets conclude season series with Pacers

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@EricSpyrosNBA

The Denver Nuggets return to Pepsi Center for their final game against the Indiana Pacers Sunday, which is also the first game of a back-to-back that wraps up in Minnesota on Monday.

Denver (29-12) reached the halfway point of the 2019-20 season with an overtime victory against the Golden State Warriors Thursday. Despite being without three starters on the second night of a back-to-back, Denver came back from a 19-point deficit to escape with the win. The Nuggets’ second-unit fueled the comeback and has a big spark for the team in recent games.

Indiana (27-15) has won four-straight games as it continues to be competitive in the Eastern Conference. The Pacers are somewhat of an Eastern Conference clone of the Nuggets, as they rank near the bottom of the league in both pace and 3-point attempt rate, while both teams have six players averaging double-figures this season. Like Denver, Indiana’s offense is also fueled by a love of the mid-range.

Denver won the first meeting this season in Indiana to begin the new year. That victory pushed the all-time season series to 46-45 in favor of the Nuggets.

Here are three keys to Sunday’s contest:

Slow down Indiana’s mid-range attack

As mentioned earlier, the Pacers thrive in the mid-range. Indiana ranks fourth in the league and slightly higher than Denver when it comes to the frequency of shots attempted from the mid-range, while the Pacers are third in field-goal percentage from that area at 43.9 percent.

This sets up quite the battle, as Denver has been solid in defending the mid-range, as it ranks sixth in the league in opponent field-goal percentage from that area of the floor. Indiana doesn’t attempt a lot of 3-pointers or finish around the rim well (21st in field goal percentage around the basket), so shutting down the mid-range will go a long way for Denver’s defense.

Control the boards

Despite starting a bigger frontcourt in Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner, the Pacers have struggled on the glass this season. Per Cleaning the Glass, Indiana ranks 26th in offensive rebound percentage and 22nd in defensive rebounding percentage, thus opening an area that Denver can exploit on Sunday.

The Nuggets rank sixth in offensive rebound percentage and 12th in defensive rebound percentage this season and used a 52-38 advantage on the boards to guide their victory over Indiana a few weeks ago. If Denver can repeat that performance on the boards they will have an inside edge to victory.

Can the bench keep up its hot play?

Denver’s second unit has thrived over the past two games, which couldn’t have come at a better time given the injuries that the team has been dealing with. The Nuggets’ second unit scored 115 points over the past two victories, with Michael Porter Jr. and Mason Plumlee consistently leading the charge.

Porter Jr. dropped 19 points and eight rebounds against Charlotte and then followed that up with 18 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in the win against Golden State. Against Indiana, Porter Jr. scored 25 points on 11-of-12 shooting, which still stands as his career-high. In that game on Jan. 2, Denver received 48 points from its second unit. A repeat performance will be needed on Sunday for the shorthanded Nuggets.

Sunday’s game will tip at 6 p.m. MT and will air on Altitude (Radio: 92.5FM).

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