Preview: Denver Nuggets face Detroit Pistons for first time this season

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@EricSpyrosNBA

The Denver Nuggets continued their ascension up the Western Conference standings with an 18-point comeback victory over the Orlando Magic Sunday, the fifth consecutive win for the Mile High crew.

Four of those wins have come with Aaron Gordon in the lineup, and Denver’s shiny acquisition had perhaps his best game as a Nugget against his former team, posting 24 points and seven rebounds on 76.9 percent shooting from the field. Both Michael Porter Jr. and Jamal Murray added 20+ points, while Nikola Jokić dished out 16 assists in the 119-109 victory.

MORE: Takeaways from win over Orlando

Now Denver (31-18) continues its five-game homestand with the first meeting against the Detroit Pistons Tuesday.

Detroit is in the early stages of a rebuild and currently owns the third-worst record in the league. Denver will see two familiar faces Tuesday, as Jerami Grant and Mason Plumlee signed with the Pistons in the offseason and will be making their return to the Mile High City Tuesday.

Projected starters: Jamal Murray, Will Barton III, Michael Porter Jr., Aaron Gordon, Nikola Jokić

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

Key matchup: Aaron Gordon vs. Jerami Grant

One of the major talking points surrounding Denver’s acquisition of Gordon at the trade deadline was Gordon’s ability to slot into the role Grant occupied last season as a versatile defender that injects athleticism when he’s on the court.

Now, the two players will get to matchup Tuesday, as Gordon will likely be tasked with slowing down Grant, who has enjoyed a breakout season in Detroit. Although his efficiency has dipped as of late (38.7 percent shooting from the field over the past 10 games), Grant has been Detroit’s go-to option offensively, averaging 22.4 points per game this season.

Although Gordon’s scoring hasn’t jumped off the page since joining the Nuggets, he has fit in seamlessly on both ends. On the offensive end, he has continued to move the ball in Denver’s offense and developed strong chemistry with Jokić, while he is tasked with guarding the opposing team’s featured option on a nightly basis.

Gordon has excelled early in this role, and now he will get an opportunity to match up with the player who occupied this role for Denver last season.

Crash the offensive glass

Although the Pistons have struggled mightily this season, they have been a solid defensive team, ranking 14th in defensive rating (per Cleaning the Glass). While Detroit has done a solid job of forcing turnovers and avoiding fouls, the Nuggets should be able to take advantage on the boards.

The Pistons rank 22nd in opponent offensive rebound percentage, allowing teams to grab an offensive rebound on 25.9 percent of their missed shots. That should be music to Denver’s ears, as the Nuggets rank second in offensive rebound percentage, grabbing an offensive board on 28.7 percent of their missed shots this season.

If the Nuggets can regularly generate second-chance opportunities Tuesday, the Pistons will be in trouble.

Avoid fouling on defense

As mentioned earlier, a good portion of Detroit’s struggles this season have come on the offensive end, where the Pistons rank 25th in offensive rating.

However, one area Detroit will look to attack and exploit is drawing fouls and getting to the charity stripe for easy points. The Pistons own the fourth-highest free throw rate this season (free throws made per 100 field-goal attempts) at 21.5.

Conversely, Denver ranks 30th in free-throw rate, so Detroit will look to create a sizeable advantage in trips to the free-throw line. The Nuggets have done a solid job of avoiding fouls on defense, ranking 12th in opponent free-throw rate this season.

If Denver can limit Detroit’s trips to the charity stripe, the Nuggets’ defense should be able to hold up against a struggling Pistons offense.

All statistics as of April 5th.

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