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Game Preview: What to Watch for as Nuggets Take on Memphis

by Christopher Dempsey
Nuggets Insider
@chrisadempsey

Back at the Pepsi Center, the Nuggets look to get back into the win column against one of the more intriguing teams in the league, the Memphis Grizzlies. There are a lot of forces at work.

First, Memphis comes into the game on a six-game losing streak. The loss of star guard Mike Conley to an Achilles injury has immediately taken a large toll, as the Grizzlies are now 0-5 without him. Yet, Memphis has been good against the Nuggets in recent years. They have won eight of the last nine against Denver, including four straight wins at the Pepsi Center.

"I see a time that has lost a bunch of close games,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “They still have Marc Gasol, who is one of the – I think – better big men in the NBA. And Tyreke Evans right now would be the Sixth Man of the Year. Tyreke Evans is playing at a very high level for them.”

Malone offered his own keys to the game.

“For us, the three keys are one, get back in transition,” Malone said. “They are fifth in fast break points per game. We can’t allow a guy like Tyreke to go coast-to-coast, which he will do. Secondly, we have to defend our paint. They are ninth in paint points per game. And lastly, it has nothing to do with Memphis. It is us and our turnovers. … If we want to be a good team, if we want to be a playoff team, we have to find a way – somehow, some way, I’ve got to pray more maybe – to stop beating ourselves.”

So, the Nuggets have their hands full, no matter what. They are entering the game off of a 1-2 road trip, but are rolling at home so far with a 7-2 record, which includes four straight wins. So, what do the Nuggets need to do in order to give themselves a great chance to win? Start with these things…

Stay in the fight vs. Gasol: With averages of 19.4 points, 9.5 rebounds and 3.4 assists Memphis’ Marc Gasol remains one of the NBA’s premier centers. But more and more there is evidence that defenders can match his physicality and have some success at the very least making him take a high volume of shots in order to score high numbers. Gasol is averaging a career-low 42 percent from the field and is going a lot more to fadeaway jumpers in post-up situations. It would be worth the Nuggets while to throw double teams at Gasol as well, which he isn’t always handling as well as he has in the past.

Win the battle of starters: Because injuries have depleted their lineup, Memphis is struggling to find consistent, significant scoring in its starting five. The five that Memphis started in its last game – Gasol, Mario Chalmers, Dillon Brooks, JaMychal Green and Chandler Parsons – combine to average 54.5 points per game. Only Gasol averages more than 10 points per game among those five. Getting out to a good start, and then sustaining that level would give the Nuggets a significant leg up in the game.

Keep Tyreke Evans in check: It has been a stellar season thus far for Tyreke Evans, the 2010 NBA Rookie of the Year, who bounced back and forth between Sacramento and New Orleans before signing with Memphis last summer. The Grizzlies have one of the NBA’s best benches and it is in large part due to Evans, who leads all NBA reserves in points (17.9) and is shooting career highs in overall percentage (50.2), the 3-point line (41.7) and the free throw line (81.4).

INJURY REPORT: Paul Millsap (wrist) is out of tonight’s game against the Grizzlies. Nikola Jokic (ankle) and Wilson Chandler (back) are probable to play in the game.

Christopher Dempsey: christopher.dempsey@altitude.tv and @chrisadempsey on Twitter