Preview: Denver Nuggets open 2021-22 regular season vs. Suns

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@EricSpyroNBA

A familiar face will greet the Denver Nuggets to open the 2021-22 regular season.

Following a condensed offseason, Denver travels to Phoenix to take on the Suns Wednesday night in their opening game of the NBA’s 75th anniversary season. Of course, Denver and Phoenix are no strangers to one another, having faced off in the second round of the 2021 Playoffs in June.

The shorthanded Nuggets were swept in four games, which left a bitter taste in the mouth following an up-and-down season that saw Nikola Jokić win MVP, with injuries ultimately taking their toll on the team towards the end of the year.

Now Denver will get a shot at some resemblance of revenge Wednesday night to begin the new season. Let’s take a look at the key storylines heading into this opening night showdown.

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

INJURY REPORT:

JAMAL MURRAY – LEFT ACL SURGERY. OUT.

VLATKO ČANČAR – LEFT HIP STRAIN. PROBABLE.

What will Denver’s second unit look like?

There are some known elements of Denver’s bench rotation heading into the opening game. For starters, Facundo Campazzo, PJ Dozier, JaMychal Green, and Jeff Green will likely be the first four players off the bench Wednesday night.

However, there are questions after that, including the potential fifth member of the second unit and what sort of staggering head coach Michael Malone will do with the starters, to potentially include Michael Porter Jr. alongside the four aforementioned players with the second unit.

Additionally, coming off an impressive preseason, could Bones Hyland figure into the rotation to begin the regular season? Denver’s second unit could benefit from a natural scorer like Hyland, although Austin Rivers could factor into the last spot of the second unit.

The battle in the mid-range

Wednesday’s matchup pits two teams that, at least last season, enjoyed operating in the mid-range. According to Cleaning the Glass, Phoenix attempted 36.2 percent of its total shot attempts from the mid-range, which was the fifth-highest percentage. Meanwhile, Denver was also in the top 10 at 33.1 percent.

The Nuggets are focused on shooting more 3-pointers this season and will be without Jamal Murray to begin the year, who is one of the team’s best mid-range scorers. However, when going up against Chris Paul and Devin Booker, Denver’s defense will need to be locked in when guarding in the mid-range.

Porter Jr.’s increased role

Heading into this new season, a key focus for the Nuggets will be the growth of Porter Jr., who will assume a larger role within the offense to begin the season. After suffering a minor injury in the playoffs, Porter Jr. struggled against the Suns and averaged just 15.3 points per game across the four-game series.

Wednesday’s game will allow the 23-year-old to shoulder a larger offensive role and face elite competition among the likes of Mikal Bridges and Jae Crowder. Porter Jr. can score among the best in the league, and Wednesday is the beginning of a new opportunity for the third-year forward to embrace.

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