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Nuggets roll into New Orleans, take on Anthony Davis, Pelicans in regular season opener

T.J. McBride Avatar
October 26, 2016


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Regular Season Game No. 1 | Denver Nuggets (0-0) at New Orleans Pelicans (0-0)

Smoothie King Center, New Orleans, Louisiana | 6:00 PM MST | TV: Altitude


The Nuggets dreadfully long preseason has mercifully come to a close with Denver finishing with an even record at 4-4. Now the Nuggets can finally turn their thoughts to real and meaningful basketball games, the first of which starts tonight against the New Orleans Pelicans at Smoothie King Center in New Orleans.

Preseason play added even more questions to the already lengthy list that have accumulated since the NBA draft. How will the Balkan Buddy Ball front court of Jusuf Nurkic and Nikola Jokic play together? How long will the injuries of Gary Harris and Darrell Arthur continue to keep the two of them out of Michael Malone’s rotation? Will Emmanuel Mudiay take a substantial leap this season?

Those question marks still surrounding the Nuggets and as we arrive at the first game of the 2016-17 NBA season, we can begin to discover answers to those burning question.

How will Nikola Jokic defend Anthony Davis?

It has been well documented that the biggest issue with starting both Nurkic and Jokic together is that Jokic will have to begin defending out to the 3-point line at a much more consistent rate. The progress has been slow, but Jokic has shown flashes that he can become passable when defending on the perimeter but overall has struggled this preseason defending outside of the paint.

While it is somewhat throwing Jokic into the proverbial fire, taking on the task of guarding arguably the most talented power forward in the NBA in Davis, may be the best thing for the young Serbian big. Crisis precipitates change and maybe being thrust into a position he does not know against someone of Davis’s caliber will provide Jokic with the opportunity to prove himself or to learn a hard but necessary lesson. While it is very likely that the Nuggets will almost always send an additional defender in Davis’s direction, look for Jokic to come out aggressive, assertive and looking for every opportunity to quiet the doubters.

If the Denver front office and coaching staff do truly see the twin towers frontcourt as the future, Jokic will have to improve on the perimeter by leaps and bounds. This will be a storyline to watch all year and it will be the main matchup to watch in the very first game of the regular season.

Nuggets guards have to outplay Pelicans backcourt

Anthony Davis will get his. There is no doubt about that. Where the Pelicans are lacking is in their backcourt. This is where the Nuggets should look to do most of their damage.

With Jrue Holliday out for personal reasons and Tyreke Evans still rehabbing an injured knee, it seems that if the Nuggets come out aggressive tonight could be a hefty confidence booster for a young backcourt. The Pelicans are forced to start E’Twaun Moore and Langston Galloway in their backcourt with only Lance Stephenson and Tim Frazier to back them up. The Nuggets will need a big time showing from their guards who could use a sizable confidence boost themselves.

If Denver is to pull out a win tonight, it will take big games from a combination of Mudiay, Murray, Jameer Nelson, and Will Barton. Look for all four to come out of the gate firing and looking to make their mark on the much less talented Pelicans backcourt. Without contributions from all four guards, the Nuggets likely do not come home to Denver with a victory.

Will Nurkic continue to be the focal point on offense?

The biggest surprise of the preseason was the sheer number of touches that Nurkic was given down low. It seemed like every time the Nuggets got into a half-court offense, the possession went through Nurkic in the low post at some point.

Nurkic is a load down low and does have the physical nature to be a menace in the paint, but to this point in his career he has struggled to shoot better than 50 percent inside the restricted area. It seems strange that the offense would be played so heavily through him if that’s the case. Nurkic is leading the team in usage percentage and has rewarded Malone by nearly averaging a double-double throughout the preseason, but it has been at the expense of less touches for the likes of Danilo Gallinari, Mudiay and Jokic.

As Harrison Wind and I discussed on the BSN Nuggets podcast, Malone may have used the preseason to boost the confidence of Nurkic. Many times during preseason the offensive sets are much more elementary versions of a team’s real schemes. Giving Nurkic a chance to prove himself while the offense played through him is potentially a stroke of genius by Malone.

No one can doubt the work Nurkic put in, and while it has yet to be seen what Nurkic can do now that he is 35 pounds lighter and seemingly much more explosive, we are finally getting into games where his play will directly reflect the Nuggets ability to make the playoffs.



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