Preview: Nuggets travel to Sacramento to face Kings and build off first win
The Nuggets (1-2) finally got in the win column Monday in a resounding 124-111 win over the Rockets (0-2). Just over 24 hours later, the team hopes to gain some momentum when facing the Kings (2-1) in Sacramento.
The Kings have gotten off to a promising start, securing a win against the Nuggets on opening night and following that up with a result over the Suns at home. Considering the quick turnaround, the Nuggets will need to be at their best to get their first win streak of the season.
Projected Starters: Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Michael Porter Jr., Paul Millsap, Nikola Jokić
TUNE IN: 8 p.m. MT, ALTITUDE
Here are the storylines to watch for:
Key matchup: Michael Porter Jr. vs. Harrison Barnes
While many focused on the heroics of De'Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield in the Nuggets’ opening day loss to the Kings, Harrison Barnes was arguably the player of the game in Sacramento’s win.
Barnes made an impact in both ends of the court and finished with 21 points, nine rebounds, and five assists while shooting 8 of 15. His matchup with Porter Jr. was something Malone honed in after the game and it will likely be an area of focus heading into Tuesday’s game.
Porter Jr. is coming off his best rebounding game of the season, helping the Nuggets beat the Rockets with 14 points and nine boards. Against Sacramento last week, the second-year forward dropped 24 points and hit three shots from downtown in the process. If he can repeat the efforts shown on the glass Monday night and continue to make timely shots from three, it would go a long way for Denver.
Containing Marvin Bagley III
It’s been a tough going for Marvin Bagley III early on in his career, as injuries derailed what was supposed to be an important second season for the big man during the 2019-20 campaign. It also doesn’t help that his progress has been compared to two men drafted after him in Luka Dončić and Trae Young.
Fortunately for the Kings, Bagley has shown some promise in his third season and is off to a solid start as he’s averaging 12.3 points and a career-high 9.7 rebounds. The former Blue Devil didn’t shoot the ball well against the Nuggets, going 5 of 15, but he did make an impact on the glass and has shown some range – hitting his first three of the season against the Suns in a loss on Dec. 27. While it is easy to focus on the Kings leading trio of Fox, Hield, and Barnes, Bagley III could be a factor if the Nuggets allow him to build confidence early on. It is something they will need to pay attention to and more importantly, box him out on the boards.
Attack the paint early and often
For all of the positives the Kings have shown early in the season, they are not defending the paint well and that bodes well for the Nuggets.
Sacramento is currently 26th in Points in the Paint allowed, giving up 54 points in that area per game. The Nuggets are third in scoring in the paint, putting up 58 points a game in the paint. Paul Millsap and Nikola Jokić have been crucial in that regard as both men are off to strong starts this season.
While there has rightly been a lot of attention toward Jokić’s MVP-caliber season, it’s important to recognize Millsap’s impact early on. The veteran big man is averaging 14.3 points per game and shooting 65.4 percent. As good as he’s been in the low post, his ability to score outside has also helped in opening up things at the rim. He is currently hitting two threes a game and shooting a sizzling 54.5 percent from downtown.
Jokić tied Fat Lever for the franchise record in triple-doubles. He has a chance to break that record Tuesday against Sacramento and is averaging an eye-popping 24 points, 14 assists, and 12 rebounds on 61.9 percent shooting.