Preview: Denver Nuggets travel to face Golden State Warriors at brand new Chase Center

by Alex Labidou
Nuggets.com Staff Writer
@LabidouA

Fresh off an encouraging win over the Charlotte Hornets, the Nuggets (28-12) resume action Thursday against the slumping Warriors (9-33). 

Denver displayed a lot of positives against Charlotte Wednesday, imposing their brand of basketball against a sub-.500-team. The Nuggets shot 48.1 percent and saw their bench dominate their opponent’s second unit, with the group scoring 52 points. Throughout the season, Denver has struggled to put away teams not in the playoff hunt as it has six losses to opponents with 15 wins or less. The team’s bench has also been under the microscope for inconsistent outings. Head coach Michael Malone’s group was effective in both areas Wednesday night. The coach will be looking for another assertive showing in the Bay Area Thursday. 

READ MORE: Nuggets 100, Hornets 86: Three takeaways

The Warriors are currently mired in a nine-game slide, with the group still searching for its first win in 2020. Injuries and player departures have rocked Golden State this season, a team that was in the NBA Finals just last season and has won three of the last five league titles. Draymond Green is the only remaining active regular starter from those teams as Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson are dealing with long-term injuries and Kevin Durant departed in free agency to the Brooklyn Nets. The team also lost several key veterans last offseason, including Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston. In their stead are All-Star guard D’Angelo Russell and a bunch of previously untested young players such as Eric Paschall and Damion Lee. This is a far cry from the golden standard set by this franchise over the past decade. 

Denver hasn’t won a season series against Golden State since the 2012-13 campaign. With the Warriors’ current state of affairs, it is likely that will end this season. However, as the Rockets learned on Christmas Day, this is a team that can still occasionally rise to the moment and upset opponents.

Projected starters: Monte Morris, Will Barton III, Torrey Craig, Jerami Grant and Nikola Jokić

TUNE IN: 8:30 p.m. MT, TV: TNT, RADIO: KKSE 950AM

Here are the storylines to watch for: 

Can the Nuggets handle the injury bug?

Jamal Murray and Paul Millsap are already ruled out of Thursday’s contest, while Gary Harris will likely be a game-time decision. That’s three key starters who dealing with various ailments and presents Malone and his coaching staff with some key decisions. 

Monte Morris will start in place of Murray, but does Michael Porter Jr. potentially join him in the starting lineup to help replace some of the scoring that Murray and Millsap provide? If Porter Jr. does, how does that affect a Nuggets’ second unit that came to life on Wednesday? 

READ MORE: How video games connect Nuggets locker room

One silver lining was PJ Dozier’s Nuggets regular season debut against the Hornets. With Morris promoted to the starting unit, Dozier played some valuable minutes as the backup point guard and put up 12 points and four boards in 13 minutes. If he can build on that performance, it could help the Nuggets hold the fort while Murray is on the mend. 

“Unbelievable attitude, great work ethic,” Malone said of Dozier after the Hornets game. “I was not surprised by anything he did tonight, I mean that sincerely. I believe in PJ Dozier, he believes in himself. All he needs is an opportunity. He got one tonight, and he took full advantage.” 

Avoiding the trap game

On paper, this should be a relatively straightforward contest. The Warriors are currently reeling and sit dead last in the NBA in winning percentage (.214). Still, this is a team that is playing in front of its fan base at a brand-new stadium on national TV. Pride could be a factor and the group is coached by one of the best in the business—Steve Kerr. 

"Golden State plays very hard, we can't look at their record," Monte Morris said after the win against the Hornets. "I think that's our biggest challenge, playing teams with not as good of a record as us. We've got to wake up from the jump." 

The Warriors struggle in almost every offensive category, sitting dead last in offensive rating (102.7) and field-goal percentage (42.8). Where they have been somewhat effective is moving the ball around as they are third in the NBA in assist percentage (64.1) and 15th in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.63). Golden State is also not entirely porous on defense as it is 20th in defensive rating (111.4). In the team’s six home wins, free throws have been the difference, attempting 28.3 per game and converting at 85.9 percent. That’s a steady rise from their season average of 23.5. 

Denver will need to set the tone early and protect the paint, avoiding unnecessary fouls, to secure a win in San Francisco. 

Containing Russell 

Russell has been one of the few bright spots for a Warriors team that has really struggled to put points on the board, averaging 104.5 points per contest. 

The 23-year-old is Golden State’s top scorer, averaging a career-high 23.5 points a game, and leading active playmaker with 6.0 dimes per contest. Russell is a rare NBA player who thrives primarily in the mid-range with long twos, shooting 57.6 percent on attempts between 16 feet to just before the three-point line. It is closer to the rim where he has difficulties. 

Although Russell is shooting 68 percent on layups, he’s struggling to connect on shots between three and 15 feet. He is shooting 41.1 percent on shots between three and 10 feet, and 38.5 percent on attempts between 10 and 16 feet. The key for Denver will be forcing Russell to shoot within those ranges and ensure he doesn’t get hot from downtown. Russell is a streaky shooter on threes, converting at 36.1 percent, but he is dangerous when he knocks in a few. Against Dallas on Dec. 28, Russell hit 9 of 14 threes. 

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