Preview: Denver Nuggets look to build momentum vs. Rockets

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@EricSpyrosNBA

Following a two-game losing streak and the loss of Jamal Murray due to a left knee injury, the Denver Nuggets were in desperate need of a morale boost, which is exactly what they got in a 123-106 victory over the Miami Heat Wednesday.

Denver was led by Michael Porter Jr. (25 points, 10 rebounds) and Nikola Jokić (17 points, 11 assists, 10 rebounds), and also received a boost from the second unit to the tune of 48 points. The Nuggets will continue to try and replace Murray’s contributions through complete team efforts, which was reflected in Wednesday’s win with six players in double-figures.

MORE: Takeaways from win over Miami

Denver (35-20) now makes a quick stop on the road to take on the Houston Rockets (14-41).

This will be a much different Rockets team than the squad Denver hosted back on Dec. 28, 2020. Gone are James Harden and P.J. Tucker, while Houston has shifted through countless starting lineups and rotations this season due to trades and absences.

In that first meeting, Jokić dominated with 19 points and a career-high 18 assists as Denver won comfortably 124-111. Everything has changed since then for Houston as head coach Stephen Silas continues to navigate a very difficult situation.

Projected starters: Monte Morris, Will Barton III, Michael Porter Jr., Aaron Gordon, Nikola Jokić

TUNE-IN: 6 p.m. MT, Altitude TV and 950AM

Key matchup: Nikola Jokić vs. Christian Wood

Although it has been a difficult season for Houston, the Rockets have to like the contributions they’ve received from Wood, their marquee free agency addition.

Wood has had a breakout season in Houston (albeit one disrupted by several injuries), with averages of 21.2 points and 9.6 rebounds per game on 53.2 percent shooting from the field and 37.8 percent from beyond the arc. The 25-year-old was hot early in the first meeting between the two teams and ultimately settled for 23 points on 9-of-20 shooting from the field.

Jokić was a very efficient 8-of-11 from the field against Wood and the Rockets back in December and should be able to use his size advantage in the post against Wood and Houston’s other frontcourt options such as Kelly Olynyk.

Limit Houston’s 3-point attempts

Even without Daryl Morey or Mike D’Antoni, the Rockets continue to emphasize the 3-pointer on offense, although with little success to show for it this season.

Houston has attempted 41.2 percent of total shot attempts from downtown this season, the fourth-highest rate in the league. However, the Rockets have only connected on 34.2 percent of those attempts, which ranks last in the league.

Denver has been vulnerable defensively when it comes to giving up 3-point attempts, but teams have only connected on 36.8 percent of those attempts, which is slightly below league average. With Houston recently deploying a frontcourt of Olynyk and Wood, Denver’s frontcourt will have to defend on the perimeter regularly in Friday’s contest.

Dominate on the boards

When a team is 14-41, they likely struggle in several key areas. One of those areas for Houston has been on the glass this season, as the Rockets rank 24th or lower in both offensive and defensive rebounding.

For a Nuggets squad that recently jumped to the top of the offensive rebound percentage standings at 29 percent, seeing Houston’s struggles to close defensive possessions with a rebound should be a welcomed sight.

The Rockets have allowed opponents to grab an offensive rebound on 27.3 percent of their missed shots this season, which ranks Houston 27th in the league in that aspect. On the other end of the floor, the Rockets rank 24th in their offensive rebound percentage, which shouldn’t strike too much fear in the Nuggets.

Denver won the rebounding battle 52-38 in the first meeting between these two teams, which included an 11-5 advantage on the offensive glass.

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