Preview: Denver Nuggets host Spurs in 2021-22 home opener

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@EricSpyroNBA

Through the first 24 minutes of their 2021-22 campaign, things weren’t going according to plan for the Denver Nuggets. Struggles from the second unit and inconsistent offense sunk Denver, who fell behind by as many as 16 points Wednesday against the Phoenix Suns.

However, the second half was a role reversal, as the Nuggets caught fire from beyond the arc and held the Suns to 40 second-half points to secure a 110-98 victory to open the season. Six players finished in double-figures for Denver, led by the reigning MVP Nikola Jokić (27 points and 13 rebounds).

MORE: Takeaways from win over Suns

The Nuggets (1-0) return home to host the San Antonio Spurs Friday night in the 2021-22 opener at Ball Arena.

San Antonio (1-0) continues to be in a transition period as a team, seeing key figures like DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge depart over the past year. The Spurs are now led by their young guards and wings, most notably Derrick White, Dejounte Murray, and Keldon Johnson.

Let’s take a look at some keys to Friday’s matchup.

INJURY REPORT:

JAMAL MURRAY – LEFT KNEE INJURY RECOVERY. OUT.

VLATKO ČANČAR – LEFT HIP STRAIN. PROBABLE.

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

Ironing out the bench rotation

As mentioned earlier, Denver’s second unit struggled to find a rhythm Wednesday night in the desert. Although the Nuggets received 27 points off the bench (almost all from Jeff Green and PJ Dozier, who combined for 23 of those points), each of the five players that saw playing time off the bench against Phoenix finished with a negative plus-minus.

The adjustment made by head coach Michael Malone in the second half of the opener was to ensure that one of Will Barton or Michael Porter Jr. shared the court with the other members of the second unit. This allowed for those groups to have additional scoring and in the case of Barton, capable ball-handling and playmaking.

Look for Malone to continue to tinker with rotations and lineups in the opening games of the season.

Take care of the ball

Although Wednesday’s win was a good start for Denver, it wasn’t a completely clean performance.

In addition to the early offensive struggles, the Nuggets weren’t able to take care of the ball and value each possession. In the 110-98 win, Denver committed 19 turnovers, which led directly to 22 points for the Suns.

Taking care of the ball was a major talking point throughout the preseason for the Nuggets, and it will be important to not give San Antonio easy scoring opportunities Friday night. In the Spurs’ opening night victory over the Orlando Magic, they forced 16 turnovers and scored 21 points off those mistakes.

Firing away from deep

There was a stark contrast in Denver’s offense from the second half of Wednesday’s victory compared to the first half. After going 6-of-18 from beyond the arc in the first half, the Nuggets knocked down 11 3-pointers in the second half alone and ultimately finished 17-of-39 (43.6 percent) from downtown.

For a Denver squad that is focused on increasing its attempts from the 3-point line this season to upwards of 40 per game, Wednesday’s performance was right in line with what Malone is hoping for. In three games against San Antonio last season, the Nuggets only averaged 28 3-point attempts per game. Look for that number to increase in Friday’s game at Ball Arena.

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