Preview: Denver Nuggets look to split season series against Pistons

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@EricSpyrosNBA

Following a brief two-game slid, the Denver Nuggets got back to winning ways on Sunday with a high-powered offensive performance against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Following their victory against Minnesota, the Nuggets now turn their attention to another rebuilding team in the Detroit Pistons.

Denver (39-18) currently sits in second place in the Western Conference and will have to take advantage of any and all games against below .500 teams in the coming weeks as playoff positioning is on the line. Now with a clean bill of health, the focus also shifts to figuring out the ideal rotation for the final 25 games of the season and the playoffs. Playing time has been hard to come by for Denver’s three newest players (Jordan McRae, Noah Vonleh and Keita Bates-Diop), while Michael Porter Jr. has seen his role decrease over the past two games as he recovers from an ankle injury.

Detroit (19-40) has gone headfirst into rebuild mode with their trade of Andre Drummond and recent buyout agreements with Reggie Jackson and Markieff Morris. As a result, the Pistons have gone 2-12 over the past month and are less than three games ahead of last place in the Eastern Conference. Derrick Rose is the headliner for Detroit now, but Christian Wood has stood out in the frontcourt with averages of 18 points and 8.5 rebounds per game over the past 10 contests, which also includes 41.5 percent shooting from beyond the arc.

One of Detroit’s two victories over the past month came at Denver’s expense, as the Pistons won a 128-123 overtime game in Detroit on Super Bowl Sunday.

Here are three keys to Tuesday’s contest:

Take care of business at home

This one is pretty simple. For a Nuggets team with a vision of making an extended playoff run, securing the best seed possible for the playoffs is of the utmost importance. Therefore, when a 19-40 team (that is 8-20 away from home) comes to the Pepsi Center, you must take advantage of the schedule and secure the victory.

There are less than three games separating Denver and the fifth-seeded Utah Jazz. Given the number of quality opponents and road games, the Nuggets will have to go through in March, piling up victories against rebuilding teams becomes more of a necessity.

Control the offensive glass

The Nuggets’ offense is fueled by their ability to take care of the ball (seventh in turnover percentage) and create second-chance opportunities. Denver currently ranks second in offensive rebound percentage at 28.3 percent, which sets up a potential mismatch against the Pistons.

Detroit ranks 23rd in defensive rebound percentage, as opponents have grabbed 26.7 percent of available offensive rebounds against the Pistons this season. With Drummond now in Cleveland and Thon Maker working with Christian Wood in the frontcourt, there should be plenty of second-chance opportunities available for the Nuggets on Tuesday.

Defending the corners

The Nuggets’ defense has stabilized after a rough stretch over late December and early January. As a result, Denver sits at 12th in defensive rating (per Cleaning the Glass). The Nuggets hover around average in all of the defensive four factors (opponent effective field-goal percentage, opponent turnover percentage, defensive rebound percentage and opponent free throw rate), but Denver’s defense is still susceptible from the corners.

The Nuggets rank 26th in the league in opponent frequency of 3-point attempts coming from the corners. Although teams haven’t really burned Denver with elite accuracy (teams have connected on 38.3 percent of such shots this season), the Pistons are one team that can and will make you pay from the corners.

Not only do the Pistons rank second in their frequency of 3-point attempts from the corners, but they also top the league in percentage at 42.4 percent. If Detroit can find success breaking down the defense and finding those shooters in the corners, Tuesday’s game may be closer than expected.

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

Tuesday’s game will tip-off at 7 p.m. MT and will air on Altitude (Radio: 92.5FM).

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