Game Preview: Nuggets Look for Victory in Memphis Without Leading Scorer
MEMPHIS – No one said qualifying for the playoffs would be easy.
But the degree of difficulty is just that much tougher as the Nuggets start a season-long seven-game road trip in Memphis without the services of their leading scorer, Gary Harris. Harris, the starting shooting guard, who averages 17.7 points per game, is out of the contest as he recovers from a right knee sprain/strain, which he suffered in the second half of the Nuggets’ win over Detroit on Wednesday night.
Harris remains day-to-day.
Meanwhile, the Nuggets (38-31) enter tonight’s game in ninth place in the Western Conference, with a chance to move back into the top eight. If both San Antonio (which plays Minnesota), and Utah (which plays Sacramento) both lose, and the Nuggets win, then the resulting three-way tie between the teams would put the Nuggets back in the eighth spot due to them having the second-best head-to-head-to-head record among the trio.
If the Nuggets end up in a two-way tie with the Spurs after tonight, they would move into the eighth spot due to a better winning percentage in the Western Conference. If the Nuggets end up in a two-way tie with Utah at the end of the night, they will assume the eighth spot due to a better winning percentage within the Northwest Division.
So, this could be a very productive night for the Nuggets.
To put themselves in position, however, they have to beat the Grizzlies. And while Memphis has lost 19 straight games and is an NBA-worst 18-50, they have been competitive and are not giving away wins easily. They just took Chicago to the wire in a 111-110 loss on Wednesday night.
So how do the Nuggets give themselves a chance to win tonight? Start with these things…
Keep the Grizzlies off the offensive glass: Memphis had a field day grabbing offensive rebounds in the previous meeting on Mar. 2, getting 17 of them. They converted those into 20 second chance points. The detail items in finishing defensive possessions off with a rebound after the first missed shot simply got away from the Nuggets. Shoring those back up is a must for this fourth, and final, matchup against the Grizzlies.
Reduce turnovers: Memphis has been one of the better teams in the league at creating turnovers this season. And in the last meeting, they forced the Nuggets into 24 turnovers, which they converted into 31 points. That allowed them to stay close and turn the game into a nail-biter down the stretch.
Find scoring in place of Harris: The Nuggets are the highest scoring team in the NBA this month, at 115.9 points per game. Still, losing Gary Harris for the game due to injury will force the offense to find ways to run well enough to keep up the production. Expect Will Barton to step into the starting lineup, which then puts pressure on the remaining reserves to inject additional scoring into the game.
Christopher Dempsey: email@example.com and @chrisadempsey on Twitter.