Golden State Warriors at Denver Nuggets preview: Andre Iguodala makes his return to the Pepsi Center

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The Warriors play in Denver for the first time since winning a thrilling series in the 2013 NBA Playoffs.


Golden State Warriors (15-13) at Denver Nuggets (14-12)

6 p.m. PT

Pepsi Center - Denver, CO

TV: CSNBA/HD | Radio: KTCT 1050

Buddy blog: Denver Stiffs

The recent drama stirred up from former Denver Nuggets coach George Karl calling out former star Andre Iguodala as Golden State Warriors coach Mark Jackson's mole would be a complete waste of pixels basketball-wise were it not for its considerable narrative weight in setting up tonight's meeting between the two teams at the Pepsi Center.

Karl became the Nuggets' former coach after failing to figure out the small ball Warriors in a disappointing (for them!) first round loss. Iguodala is not only on the Warriors' roster now, but also an invaluable piece whose recent absence was associated with the recent tailspin that now has people questioning Jackson. I really wish I could somehow cram Anthony Randolph into this narrative, but nobody has asked him for comment on the matter.

In for the Nuggets is Brian Shaw, the long-time NBA assistant who no small number of Warriors fans pined for at the time of Jackson's hiring; the mole narrative itself fits with the notion that mutual respect between Iguodala and Jackson is part of the reason the star Swiss Army knife wing is in the Bay Area while there are murmurs out of Denver entering tonight's game that Shaw is struggling to connect with his players, as reported by Terry Frei of the Denver Post. In an analysis of the Nuggets' current three-game losing streak - part of a longer stretch in which they've lost six of their last nine games - Nate Timmons of SB Nation's Denver Stiffs looked at the slowing pace of the team recently and concluded by writing, "In a season long test for Brian Shaw and his team, it's time for a recharge."

And despite these two franchises seemingly going in opposite directions since they last played each other in May, here we are with both sitting on the fringe of an insanely competitive Western Conference playoff race with the Warriors on the outside looking in at ninth place with a seven-game Eastern Conference road trip looming (or is that too ominous a word to describe a trip that includes the Wizards, Bucks and Nets in succession?).


Western Standings

GP W-L PCT
Portland Trail Blazers 28 23-5 .821
Oklahoma City Thunder 27 22-5 .815
San Antonio Spurs 27 21-6 .778
Los Angeles Clippers 29 20-9 .690
Houston Rockets 28 18-10 .643
Phoenix Suns 26 16-10 .615
Dallas Mavericks 27 15-12 .556
Denver Nuggets 26 14-12 .538
Golden State Warriors 28 15-13 .536
Los Angeles Lakers 27 13-14 .481
Minnesota Timberwolves 28 13-15 .464
New Orleans Pelicans 25 11-14 .440
Memphis Grizzlies 26 11-15 .423
Sacramento Kings 26 8-18 .308
Utah Jazz 30 8-22 .267

If you're into soap operas, this should be an exciting day for you; if your primary interest is simply to get a win to avoid falling further back into the pack of potential lottery teams, this is a game that might make you a bit nervous because the past is the past and right now the Warriors need a win about as badly as Shaw wants Denver media to believe that he has this team headed in a positive direction.

For those more interested in what happens on the court than the narratives manufactured off of it, let's take a closer look at the basketball elements of this game.

Keys to the game:

  • Take care of the ball: Maybe this is so obvious at this point that it doesn't require mentioning, but the Warriors are 29th in the league in turnover rate (15.7%) and to the point of Timmons' article - as well as a great Zach Lowe article from a couple of weeks ago - the Nuggets have a roster that is built to run and less to the slow-it-down, grind-it-out style that Shaw brought from the Indiana Pacers. Coughing up careless live ball turnovers has made things hard on the Warriors all season; doing so against this Nuggets team in Denver is the fast track to a loss.
  • Contain Ty Lawson: As Lowe writes, "Lawson is playing the best ball of his life...This is Lawson's team, and he's thriving." While most teams would probably look to slow the pace to stifle the Nuggets' offense, the Warriors are capable of beating most teams on the run if their threes are falling - when they get out in transition and start raining threes on people's heads, it's difficult for opponents to keep up (or maintain the leads the Warriors spotted them). But the key here is to find some kind of way to take away Lawson's options in the pick & roll, especially when the Nuggets put their backup bigs in the game: as Lowe also notes, Darrell Arthur is the team's most reliable mid-range shooter making the Lawson pick & roll more dangerous with him in the game.
  • Klay Thompson: The past 14 days haven't been kind to Klay Thompson: he has shot just 42-114 (36.84%) from the field over the Warriors' past seven games in which the team has gone 3-4. The Warriors are going to need a strong game from Thompson on both ends - but perhaps especially from beyond the arc if this turns into a track meet - to return to normal altitude with a win.

This figures to be yet another game that will likely be entertaining on multiple levels for casual fans but potentially excruciating to watch if the Warriors fall into their own bad habits on offense and fail to neutralize the Nuggets strengths. But after seeing what Iguodala did in his return to Philadelphia earlier this season, there might be hope for him to put the team on his shoulders tonight as well given his short-lived history with the team.

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