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Preseason game No. 1 | Denver Nuggets (0-0) at Toronto Raptors (1-0)
Darrell Arthur – OUT (knee)
The Denver Nuggets open preseason play Monday night against the Toronto Raptors from Alberta, Canada. Here are five storylines to watch throughout the night:
How many minutes will the starting five get together and how will they look?
Denver’s presumptive starting five: Emmanuel Mudiay, Gary Harris, Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried, and Nikola Jokic played 290 minutes together last season over 21 games. They scored an efficient 104.8 points per 100 possessions but gave up 107.3, a number they’ll have to lower if they want to sniff the eighth seed this year.
The starters should spend a large majority of the first quarter on the floor together and one of the major storylines Monday night will be if they look to be building off the foundation they laid last season. How will Mudiay’s chemistry with Gallinari and Faried, that got off to a rough start last season but got better as the year wore on, look in year two? Will Harris be more aggressive with more offensive responsibility shifting onto his shoulders? Will the Nuggets look to play through Jokic more at the five like the team has talked about doing all summer? We should be able to start answering those questions after tonight.
Also, how will the offense look as a whole? The Nuggets quasi-offensive coordinator, Chris Fleming, left the organization for the Brooklyn Nets this summer and a lot of what Denver did last season on offense was Fleming’s. Chris Finch replaces Fleming on the staff and comes to the Nuggets from the Houston Rockets with his three’s or layups philosophy. How much will Denver shift their approach and philosophy on offense under or will they continue to work off what they did last year?
Will a healthy Jusuf Nurkic look like his rookie-year self?
Last season was essentially a lost year for Nurkic who never seemed fully healthy after knee surgery in the summer of 2015. Now healthy, and coming off a summer with the Bosnian national team where he looked athletic and determined to get his career back on track, Nurkic has reportedly lost 35 pounds this year and it shows. He looked quicker with the Bosnian team and more explosive than he ever has with Denver. The weight loss will also make it easier on his body and, hopefully, he can make it through a full 82 games season.
A healthy Nurkic means the Nuggets can use their best rim protector in a variety of ways against Toronto, this preseason and during the regular season. Will coach Michael Malone deploy the Jurkic lineup featuring both Jokic and Nurkic t0night that he’s talked about at length this summer as something the Nuggets like and want to use this season? Toronto’s bigs, which consist of Jared Sullinger, Jonas Valanciunas, Patrick Patterson, Pascal Siakam, Jakob Poeltl and Lucas Nogueira, make playing Jurkic more feasible than against a team with multiple stretch fours.
How many minutes will Wilson Chandler play?
Malone wouldn’t commit to a minutes restriction on Chandler at media day but did say he’d get with the Nuggets training staff and come to a consensus. Chandler didn’t think he needed one and feels 100 percent healthy, but said he wouldn’t be surprised if he was under some sort of minutes limit during the preseason.
That being said, it’s important for Chandler to get his feet wet and off to a good start against the Raptors. Hopefully, we’ll see the 29-year-old get some shots up and see the ball go through the net a few times. I’ll also be looking to see if he shares the court with Gallinari at all against the Raptors. The projected Nuggets closing lineup featuring Mudiay, Harris, Gallinari, Chandler and Jokic looks great on paper, but we need to see Chandler on the court to know how soon he’ll be back to his pre-injury self. I’d look for Chandler to get minutes, but for the coaching staff to still be cautious with him throughout the preseason.
Which regulars will Toronto suit up?
This is the Nuggets first preseason game, but the Raptors already have one game under their belts. Toronto beat Golden State 97-93 Saturday night behind 14 points from DeMarre Carroll, 11 points from DeMar DeRozan and seven points and 11 rebounds from Jared Sullinger. Seeing how they just played two days ago, I doubt we’ll see Toronto’s regulars play nearly as much as Denver’s.
Expect to see heavy doses of Siakam, an intriguing but extremely raw 6-foot-9 post player, Poeltl, a 7-footer from the University of Utah and No. 9 overall pick, Norman Powell, Fred Van Fleet, and Bruno Cabocolo. At the very least the Nuggets role players can build some confidence against Toronto’s reserves if their starters take the night off.
Rookies will get run
Juan Hernangomez and Malik Beasley, the No. 15 and 19 picks in the draft, respectively, aren’t’ supposed to play much this season. I say that hesitantly because Jokic wasn’t supposed to play many minutes last season, and well, yeah you know the rest. In short, preseason and starting tonight will be where Hernangomez and Beasley can prove to Malone and his staff if they deserve rotation minutes this year.
Jamal Murray, on the other hand, should be a fixture in the rotation from day one. Granted we don’t know exactly what his role will be but it sounds like the organization views him as a true combo guard that can play the one and two. I’d expect him to get heavy minutes at point guard against Toronto as the Nuggets try to get his ball handling and point guard skills up to the level they need to be. Murray played point guard in high school but was primarily on the wing last year at Kentucky.
Toronto is the first step and game of an extremely important season for the Nuggets. It’s just one game, a preseason game at that, but should give us a long-awaited glimpse into what Denver has in store for this season.
Nuggets preseason schedule