Where: Oracle Arena, Oakland, CA
When: Monday January 2, 2017 @ 7:30 PM (PT)
What: Hopefully the Warriors’ 30th win
Who: Warriors (Yay!!!) vs. Nuggets (Boo!!!)
Why: Because basketball, dammit!
How: By any means necessary. You can watch the action on CSN Bay Area, or listen to the call on 95.7 The Game and the Warriors Radio Network in the Bay Area, or you can watch on Altitude Sports in Colorado.
Exactly one year ago, a heavily outmatched Denver Nuggets squad traveled to Oracle Arena and pushed a 30-2 Warriors squad to overtime before Jameer Nelson and Danilo Gallinari finally succumbed to the overwhelming might of the Warriors roster and fervent roar of the home crowd.
The Nuggets would have their revenge. Just eleven days later, the Nuggets handed the Warriors their third loss of the season in Denver.
Of course, both teams have made some improvements to their rosters in the last 365 days. The Warriors managed to find a skinny kid on the wing to replace Harrison Barnes, and besides adding another lottery pick in Jamaal Murray to the team, the Nuggets also discovered that they had given a franchise player a chance to start, after relegating him to bench duties for most of the season.
Nikola Jokic played just over five minutes in that start, the first of a 48 game run that saw the rookie have an elite effect on games. His RPM (ESPN’s “real plus/minus” statistic) showed that he was a top 10 player in the league on a per minute basis. Nuggets head coach Mike Malone chose to bring the big Serbian along slowly, and Jokic remained under the radar of most casual NBA observers. When the Rookie of the Year voting was tallied, Jokic found himself largely ignored in favor of the counting stats and highlight reels of New York’s Kristaps Porzingis or Minnesota’s Karl Anthony Towns.
Still, the Nuggets have plenty to be excited about with Jokic, Emmanuel Mudiay, Gary Harris, and Murray all looking like core pieces for the mile high city’s NBA representatives. The Nuggets will supplement Jokic with Jusuf “the Bosnian Bear” Nurkic, and Kenneth “Manimal” Fareid, while the perimeter welcomes Will Barton back after a lengthy stint on the injured list. Gallinari and Wilson Chandler will continue to provide a lot of leadership along with offensive versatility.
The Nuggets (14-19) will need a big game from several players if they want to beat the Warriors (29-5) in Oakland. Fareid and Gallinari, in particular, will need to play better perimeter defense against the Warriors All Star forwards. The Warriors boast the league’s top offense, both by points and efficiency, and are coming together nicely on the other end of the floor, where they currently rank first in defensive rating.
The Nuggets come in at 11th in offensive rating, but a distant 26th in defensive rating. They match up well against the Warriors inside, but the Nuggets’ perimeter defense remains spotty, and should be a weakness that the home team can exploit. However, if the Nuggets can control the glass and get a few timely turnovers, they might be inexperienced and hungry enough to pull off an upset. After a disappointing loss to the 76ers dropped them from the playoff picture, I expect to see the Nuggets come out swinging against our hardwood heroes.
If 2016 taught us anything, it’s that anything can happen. Hopefully, that won’t be a lesson that the Golden State Warriors learn again to start the new year.