Preview: Denver Nuggets look to bounce back vs. Indiana Pacers

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@EricSpyrosNBA

Although the Denver Nuggets were able to return home following a fifth-consecutive victory on Friday, the good mood didn’t last long as a rested Dallas Mavericks team ensured that Denver’s upcoming homestand began with a loss.

Denver (22-16) was without Monte Morris Saturday and struggled on the defensive end in the 116-103 loss. Despite strong performances from Nikola Jokić (26 points, 11 assists, and eight rebounds), Michael Porter Jr. (23 points and eight rebounds), and Will Barton III (23 points), the Nuggets fell behind by as much as 20 points in the second half and couldn’t forge a comeback on the second night of a back-to-back.

MORE: Three takeaways from loss to Mavericks

The Nuggets must quickly regroup ahead of Monday’s contest with the Indiana Pacers, a team that is coming off an impressive road win over the Phoenix Suns and has also been boosted by the return of Caris LeVert. Indiana (17-20) is just 3-7 in its last 10 games but is getting healthy and capable of beating any opponent on a given night.

Projected starters: Jamal Murray, Will Barton III, Michael Porter Jr., Paul Millsap, Nikola Jokić

Injury report:

R.J. HAMPTON – HEALTH AND SAFETY PROTOCOLS. OUT.

GARY HARRIS – LEFT ADDUCTOR STRAIN. OUT.

MONTE MORRIS – LEFT QUADRICEPS STRAIN. OUT.

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

Key matchup: Jamal Murray vs. Malcolm Brogdon

It’s no secret that Denver’s leading guard has struggled to begin the second half of the season. After ending the first half of the season by scoring at least 22 points in Denver’s final 12 games, the 24-year-old has scored 13 points over the first two games of the second half on 5-of-27 shooting from the field.

This is likely just a cold shooting spell for Murray, who scored 23 points on 8-of-15 shooting in the Nuggets’ 113-103 victory over the Pacers back on March 4.

Meanwhile, Brogdon is enjoying a career year in a larger role for Indiana. The 28-year-old is averaging a career-high 21.5 points per game and has shot 39.1 percent from beyond the arc, attempting 6.4 per game. Brogdon has long been known as a solid defensive player and complementary piece on offense, but he has shown that he can handle a larger role for an offense and thrive, which is what the Pacers have needed with LeVert and T.J. Warren out due to injury.

Take care of the ball

A large portion of Indiana’s success this season can be credited to the defensive end of the floor, where the Pacers currently rank 12th in defensive rating. When looking deeper into what is fueling their success on that end, the numbers point to the Pacers’ ability to force turnovers at a high rate.

Indiana currently ranks fourth in opponent turnover percentage, as it has forced a turnover on 15.5 percent of opponent possessions (the league average is 14 percent). This high turnover rate has been a key factor in the Pacers’ defense ranking above average despite struggling on the defensive glass and putting teams on the free throw line often.

In the March 4 contest between these two teams, the Nuggets coughed it up 19 times, which allowed Indiana to stay competitive despite Denver shooting 58.4 percent from the field and 42.9 percent from beyond the arc.

The Nuggets have been good at valuing each possession (ranking ninth in turnover percentage on the season) but must avoid mistakes in hopes of bouncing back with a win over Indiana Monday.

Pack the paint on defense

Under new head coach Nate Bjorkgren, Indiana has varied its attack on the offensive end and the changes are eye-popping.

The Pacers’ main goal on offense is to get inside the paint and attack the rim at a staggering rate. Nearly 42.5 percent of Indiana’s shot attempts this season have come at the rim, which comfortably tops the league. For reference, the league average is 33.4 percent of shot attempts.

Indiana staunchly avoids mid-range shots, ranking 29th in the frequency of shot attempts coming from that area of the floor, while 34.8 percent of the Pacers' shot attempts have come from deep this season, which ranks 20th.

The Pacers currently rank fourth in the league in points in the paint, averaging 53.4 per game. Denver was able to limit Indiana’s effectiveness from that area of the floor back on March 4, as the Pacers scored 46 points in the paint compared to Denver’s 50 points.

Although Indiana has struggled to finish around the rim (60.7 percent from within four feet of the basket, which ranks 24th in the league), Denver must prioritize showing multiple defenders in the paint to make life difficult for the Pacers.

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