Tonight at 9:00pm EST the Pistons will continue their west-coast road trip to play against the Nuggets in Denver. The Pistons are on one day of rest after being kind enough to help the Jazz run a practice on Tuesday. The Nuggets are also on one day of rest after losing to the Lakers on Tuesday.
The Nuggets are good, even if they end up missing the playoffs in a brutal Western Conference. They come into the game with the 6th best offensive efficiency in the NBA by scoring 109 points per 100 possessions, unfortunately their defense is almost as bad as their offense is good by allowing 108.5 points per 100 possessions which is 25th in the NBA.
The Nuggets are led by big-man Jesus Nikola Jokic who averages a monstrous 17.1 points, 10.4 rebounds, and 6 assists per game. His defense is, lacking, to say the least but he is a brilliant offensive player. Gary Harris built off a great year last year and leads the Nuggets in scoring at 17.8 per game, he is something akin to Reggie Bullock when Reggie Bullock is at his best but getting to do his stuff with one of the greatest passing big men to ever live. Lots of off-ball stuff, great cutter, great shooter. Earlier in the season I said of Murray that “We are not sure if he is actually all that good or not” we now know. Jamal Murray is good, he is a pure shooter and capable of going for big games scoring. The question now is whether or not he is really a point guard long-term or not, although with Jokic around he will never have to take on a huge burden facilitating. Paul Millsap only recently returned from injury and is still finding his footing a bit, but assuming he gets back to full form he should still be one of the best all-around forwards in the game today. Wilson Chandler is often a shell of himself, but he can still do most basic wing stuff. Will Barton is a terror scoring off the bench, Mason Plumlee is still a thing and he is a decent big man. Trey Lyles can shoot at the 4 spot, Devin Harris is now doing his thing here, he's old but still can do some stuff.
The Nuggets have a ton of offensive firepower, and play very little defense. The hope is that Millsap (a great defender) will help in that department as he gets back into form, indeed, Millsap should help a lot of things. They may miss the playoffs, but this team is very good.
Matchups to watch:
Pistons vs. Not ruining everything: I resigned myself to the Pistons missing the playoffs a bit ago, I announced it in this space in fact. Getting blown out repeatedly is wearing on even my optimistic spirits. Playoffs are all but out of the question, SVG may well be on his way out, but the Pistons need to pull something together going down the stretch so that there is something to look to heading into next year.
Blake Griffin vs. Attacking: Griffin struggled last time out, which was somewhat understandable given that the Jazz are an awesome defensive team who especially thrive at holding the paint with an iron grip and made worse by the dreaded Johnson/Smith duo starting again. The Jazz are not good defensively. Griffin has to attack, if he does he should face minimal resistance.
Drummond vs. Jokic: Talk about difference in styles. It will be facinating to watch them go against each other, the Nuggets often try to play Jokic at the 4 more often but have really let him play center more with Millsap in the lineup.
Ish Smith vs. Jamal Murray: I will say it again, Ish Smith has become a total disaster defensively over the last month+. He is not the only problem of course, but he is a problem. He has really struggled with guys who can shoot, and especially with guys who are big enough to shoot over him. Murray is both of those things, this will probably go poorly for the Pistons.
Luke Kennard vs. Overcoming: Even if the team around him continues to be a dumpster fire, if Kennard can replicate his performance against the Jazz it would be nice.
Pistons vs. 3-point shooters: The Pistons can't defend the long-line to save their lives. Until this changes the Pistons will continue to get blown out. The Nuggets are a team that can really shoot.
So in conclusion...
Wink knowingly at your friends if:
The Pistons are not losing by 20 at the end of the first quarter.
The Pistons are not losing by 30 at halftime.
Luke Kennard remains a silver lining.
Run for the hills if:
The Pistons are down by 20 in the first quarter.
The Pistons are down by 30 in the second quarter.
The Nuggets hit a lot of threes.
Opportunities for me to look stupid:
I'm making no predictions for this one. The whole point is to be optimistic predictions, but I cannot make one for this. Until the Pistons manage to not get blown out by a good team that isn't unrested I ain't doing it.
What do you think? Drummond or Jokic? Can Griffin get it going against the soft Denver defense?