Preview: Denver Nuggets conclude back-to-back against Rockets

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@EricSpyrosNBA

The weekend couldn’t have gotten off to much of a worse start than it did for the Denver Nuggets, who not only dropped a 118-97 game to the Golden State Warriors, but also potentially lost Will Barton III for an extended period with a right hamstring strain.

Barton III exited in the opening minute of the game, and Denver’s offense never found a rhythm throughout the night, while the defense struggled to contain Stephen Curry and get back in transition.

MORE: Takeaways from loss to Warriors

Denver (38-21) now returns home Saturday to face the struggling Houston Rockets.

Houston (15-45) is no stranger to losses this season, as the Rockets currently own the league’s worst record. Houston is 2-8 in its last 10 games and is coming off a close loss to the LA Clippers Friday night, 109-104.

Denver won the first two meetings between these two teams this season.

Projected starters: Facundo Campazzo, PJ Dozier, Michael Porter Jr., Aaron Gordon, Nikola Jokić

TUNE-IN: 8 p.m. MT, Altitude TV and 92.5FM

Key matchup: Michael Porter Jr. vs. Jae’Sean Tate

For those unfamiliar with Tate, watching the 25-year-old rookie in just one game will likely change that.

Tate has had a difficult journey to the NBA, but now that he’s made it, it certainly looks like the physical, defensive-minded wing isn’t going anywhere soon. Although 3-point shooting isn’t a key ingredient in his offensive game (just 28.7 percent), Tate has produced well above expectations this season, averaging 11 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 2.2 assists per game on 51.6 percent shooting from the field.

Add in the 1.2 steals per game that Tate adds on the defensive end and his physicality at 230 pounds and you get a solid two-way player that can present issues for Denver. Tate scored 21 points to go along with five rebounds and five assists in last week’s meeting between these two teams.

Meanwhile, Porter Jr. continues to assume a larger role within Denver’s offense with Jamal Murray out for the season. The 22-year-old forward has averaged 21.5 points per game over the past 10 games on 55.5 percent shooting from the field. Porter Jr. and Tate are two very different players, making this matchup particularly interesting.

Take care of the ball

It’s no secret that Houston has struggled mightily on both ends of the floor this season. The Rockets rank in the bottom five in both offensive and defensive rating, which is fueled by ranking below average in nearly all of the key four factors (effective field-goal percentage, offensive rebound percentage, turnover percentage, and free-throw rate).

However, one area Houston has thrived in is forcing turnovers, as the Rockets own the 10th-best opponent turnover percentage, forcing teams to cough it up on 14.7 percent of their possessions.

Denver has struggled in this area in recent weeks, slipping to 14th in the league in turnover percentage at 13.8 percent (league average is 14 percent). In their 128-99 victory over Houston last week, the Nuggets only coughed it up nine times, which allowed their offense to take advantage of the Rockets’ other weaknesses.

Attack the glass

When a team is 15-45, they likely struggle in several key areas. One of those areas for Houston has been on the glass this season, as the Rockets rank 27th or lower in both offensive and defensive rebounding.

For a Nuggets squad that has jumped to the top of the offensive rebound percentage standings at 29.2 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 27.5 percent of their missed shots this season, which ranks Houston 28th in the league in that aspect. On the other end of the floor, the Rockets rank 27th in their offensive rebound percentage, which shouldn’t strike too much fear in the Nuggets, who rank 11th in opponent offensive rebound percentage.

Denver won the rebounding battle 52-38 in the first meeting between these two teams and improved on that in the second meeting, holding a 54-35 advantage on the boards.

Statistics as of April 22.

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