Preview: Denver Nuggets continue Preseason against Thunder

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@EricSpyroNBA

The 2021 Preseason is nearing the end this week, with the Denver Nuggets in Oklahoma for back-to-back games against the Oklahoma City Thunder to wrap up the preparation for the 2021-22 regular season.

Denver returns to action following Friday’s overtime loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves in the lone preseason game at Ball Arena. Following ample practice time over the past three days, Denver looks to use Wednesday’s contest as a true warm-up for the season, with starters potentially playing up to 30 minutes in the game.

Oklahoma City is entering the second season of the team’s rebuild and has built a collection of young talent, headlined by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey, the sixth overall pick in July’s NBA Draft.

Injury report:

JAMAL MURRAY – LEFT ACL SURGERY. OUT.

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Final test run before the real thing

Although these two teams will meet again on Thursday, Nuggets head coach Michael Malone expressed his desire to use Wednesday’s game as the last true test run for the regular season, revealing his plan to play his starters and key rotation players more significant minutes.

With Will Barton set to make his preseason debut Wednesday, it will allow Malone to get a look at the projected starting five for Denver this season, which includes Monte Morris, Michael Porter Jr., Aaron Gordon, and Nikola Jokić next to Barton. This will also allow the Nuggets to get a look at a potential bench rotation, with several players competing for minutes, especially in the backcourt.

Barton’s 2021-22 debut

Entering training camp, Barton raved about how well he was feeling after his 2020-21 season was derailed due to injury, which forced him to miss all but three of Denver’s playoff games.

Now entering a season in which Denver will be without Jamal Murray for an extended period, Barton assumes a significant role as a do-it-all player on the offensive end, capable of handling the ball at times while also spacing the floor in an off-ball role at other times.

After suffering an ankle injury during the early days of training camp, Barton appears ready to make his preseason debut Wednesday, which will allow the Nuggets to get a look at their complete rotation for the first time with just a week to go until the regular season.

Final opportunities for the young players

Wednesday and Thursday present Denver’s younger players with some final in-game opportunities to make a case for playing time in the regular season. Headlined by Bones Hyland, Denver’s young players have played occasionally throughout the preseason, with mixed results.

Hyland has showcased his ability to put points on the board in flurries, Bol Bol has blocked a lot of shots but occasionally struggled with shot selection, while Zeke Nnaji has impressed with his defensive versatility but has made a few key mistakes defending on the perimeter.

With the regular season quickly approaching, Denver’s youngest players must take advantage of every preseason opportunity they receive this week.

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