By John Carroll | Scouts Inc.
The Denver Nuggets and the Golden State Warriors will face each other in back-to-back games Saturday and Monday. They have played just one time this season, with the Warriors winning that contest 109-101 in early February. Saturday’s game will have a much different flavor than the earlier matchup because of the absence of Monta Ellis.
This is an important game for the Nuggets because they are fighting for the last playoff spot in the West. They are tied for the Nos. 7-8 playoff positions with the Houston Rockets, but they have the Phoenix Suns and Utah Jazz on their heels, just a game behind them in the standings. On the other hand, the Warriors are out of the playoff race and are just 3-7 in their last 10 games.
For the Nuggets Danilo Gallinari is out with a fractured thumb. The Warriors’ Stephen Curry is out with an ankle injury. Both players are listed as day-to-day.
Key matchup: Warriors PF David Lee vs. Nuggets PFs Kenneth Faried and Al Harrington
The power forward position will be an interesting matchup. Lee has been a walking double-double for the Warriors all season and he has carried the team offensively. He is currently averaging 20.1 points and 9.6 rebounds per game. In the past five games, Lee is averaging 27.0 points and shooting over 52 percent. The Warriors desperately need Lee to score and to get to the free throw line to slow down the Nuggets’ fast break.
Faried and Harrington handle the power forward duties for Denver. Faried didn’t play at all earlier in the season, but he now leads all rookies in rebounding (7.1 per game). He is a high-energy player who outruns opponents and attacks the glass. Harrington is one of the top bench scorers in the NBA, averaging 14.4 points per game. In addition, he is shooting 45 percent from the field -- his best percentage since 2006-07.
Key mismatch: Nuggets PG Ty Lawson vs. Warriors PGs Charles Jenkins and Nate Robinson
Lawson is playing at a very high level. In the past five games, he is scoring 22.8 points per game, while dishing out 7.2 assists. If the Nuggets make the playoffs, Lawson will be the primary reason. He pushes the ball in transition with incredible speed. He attacks the rim and scores with ease. He is the facilitator offensively for the Nuggets, who are second in the league in assists at 23.5 per game. Lawson is shooting 51 percent over the past five games and has improved his 3-point shooting to 38 percent.
Jenkins has been thrown into the starting lineup because of the injuries to Curry. Jenkins has good size at 6-foot-3 and has done a nice job getting to the rim in transition while displaying a nice midrange shot. Unfortunately for the Warriors, his play as a rookie has been up and down. Robinson has done a nice job off the bench, averaging 10.2 points and 4.2 assists.
Key stat: Points in the paint
The Nuggets lead the NBA in points scored in the paint. They average 51.9 points per game. There is a 14.4 differential between their paint points and the Warriors, who are in the bottom tier of the league, scoring only 37.5 points per game. The Nuggets push the ball in transition, get into the paint and put tremendous pressure on opponents. On Jan. 25, the Nuggets scored 92 paint points against the Sacramento Kings. In contrast, the Warriors allow 42.4 points per game in the paint, which ranks them 23rd in the NBA. One of the biggest keys to this game is that the Warriors must stop Lawson’s dribble penetration and limit his ability to get into the paint. If not, the Nuggets will dominate this game.
Key play: Transition Defense
The Warriors need to be exact in their transition defense. The Nuggets are the No. 1 fast-break team in the league. They score 20.1 points per game in transition. The Nuggets are all about pace. They want to wear their opponents out with an up-tempo, fast-breaking style. They outscore the Warriors on average by eight points per game. The Warriors only score 12.1 points per game on the break.
The Warriors must try to do four things against the Nuggets:
1) Floor balance -- They need two-to-three players back on every missed shot.
2) Shot selection -- They need great shots that lead to excellent floor balance. Bad, quick shots against the Nuggets will lead to easy baskets in transition.
3) Limit their turnovers -- The Warriors are third in the league in turnovers at 13.7 per game. They must have a low-turnover game against Denver.
4) Get to the line -- Getting to the free throw line lets the Warriors set their defense and will slow down the Nuggets.
Key deficiency: Defense
Saturday night’s game will not be a defensive struggle. The Nuggets and the Warriors are two of the worst defensive teams in the NBA. The Nuggets are 29th in the NBA allowing opponents to score 102.0 points per game. In addition, they allow their opponents to shoot 46 percent, which puts them at 24th. The Warriors allow opponents to score 100.3 points per game which is 27th.
The Nuggets and Warriors are two of the highest-scoring teams in the league but without a commitment to defense, they are going nowhere. Coach George Karl has been with the Nuggets since 2005 and during that time his emphasis has been on offense. The Nuggets try to win by creating a high offensive pace and outscoring their opponents. Warriors coach Mark Jackson has preached defense since the first day of training camp this season but nothing has changed with the Warriors. They are not any better defensively with their new coach. The only way the Warriors will improve is with roster changes. They need to bring in players who have a much better defensive mindset next season.