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Nuggets begin five-game road trip in Toronto

Harrison Wind Avatar
October 31, 2016


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Regular Season Game No. 3 | Denver Nuggets (1-1) at Toronto Raptors (1-1)

Air Canada Centre, Toronto, Ontario | 5:30 PM MST | TV: Altitude

After an emotional home opener that saw the Nuggets blow an eight-point lead in the final minute of regulation, Denver travels to Toronto to take on the Raptors and another dynamic backcourt to begin a five-game road trip.
The Nuggets are only two games into their 82-game schedule, but after dropping a winnable game at Pepsi Center and facing a grueling road trip where Denver will play five potential playoff teams in nine days, it’s a crucial stretch of games for Michael Malone’s squad.

Can Emmanuel Mudiay string together a few good games?

Mudiay had the best quarter of his young season Saturday against Portland when he scored 13 points on 5-10 shooting and helped the Nuggets outscore the Trailblazers 34-19 in the third quarter. However, it’s tough to dismiss his disastrous first half and fourth quarters where he, along with other Nuggets aided in Portland’s comeback.

The 20-year-old goes up against another top-level point guard in Kyle Lowry as he looks to string together a complete game for the first time this year. Mudiay was disastrous when playing the Raptors last year. In two games, he averaged 4.5 points on 26.7 shooting but did dish out 8.5 assists per game against Toronto.

Through two games, Mudiay is shooting 32.1 percent from the field, including 4-15 outside the restricted area and averaging 3.5 assists to 5.5 turnovers per game. Mudiay is rebounding at an impressive rate – 7.0 per game and helping the Nuggets to the league’s fastest pace on the season but will look to put together a full 48-minutes of positive play Monday against Toronto.

How does Denver repeat their third-quarter success from Saturday?

The Nuggets third quarter against Portland Saturday night was their best quarter of the season, so how do they recreate that success in Toronto?

Denver outscored Portland 34-19, shot 12-23 from the field and only turned the ball over three times in those twelve minutes. Additionally, the Nuggets played at a blistering, 115 possessions per 48-minute average pace and found success with their twin towers lineup with Nikola Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic in the frontcourt as well as Kenneth Faried at the five.

The Nuggets pushed the pace and ran off of Portland misses, putting Mudiay in situations where he can succeed. Mudiay’s best attribute right now is his ability to get out and lead the break, assess the floor in transition and attack the rim. He was able to do that in the third quarter against the Trailblazers. Also, Mudiay thrived in high pick-and-rolls that quarter as well. Mudiay found himself at the top of the key working with Kenneth Faried, someone who he developed some pretty good pick-and-roll chemistry with last season. We’ll see if that style of play continues in Toronto.

Are these Malone’s final rotations?

After Saturday’s home opener against Toronto, Malone admitted that the surplus of big men on Denver’s roster has made it difficult to set his desired frontcourt rotations in stone. To date, Faried is surprisingly averaging the most minutes out of the Nuggets big men, followed by Jokic and then Nurkic and Malone has looked to close out each of Denver’s first two games with Faried in the small ball lineup.

While that smallball lineup featuring Mudiay, Will Barton, Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari and Faried has held opposing offenses to just 89.3 points per 100 possessions, they haven’t been able to score efficiently. That five has shot just 34.8 percent from the field when on the floor together and good for only an 85.4 offensive rating.

We’ll see if Malone wants to stick with this smallball lineup going forward as his closing unit or switch it up if tonight’s contest in Toronto is a close one. Hopefully, we get another glimpse of the Nuggets version of their “Death Lineup” with Mudiay, Barton, Chandler and Gallinari surrounding Jokic. That five has only played three minutes together over two games but is a +11 plus-minus.

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