This is a tough road trip to start the season for the Golden State Warriors.
As Daniel Hardee pointed out recently, in all of the “Big Four” American sports, the Denver Nuggets have the greatest home court advantage of any team — followed closely by our previous opponent, the Utah Jazz.
It took a Jonas Jerebko miracle tip-in to come out of Utah with a win on Friday night, and while that was fun and all, I’m sure I’m not the only one hoping for a bit more of a safety cushion when the Warriors take on the Nuggets tonight.
WHO: Golden State Warriors at Denver Nuggets
WHEN: Sunday, October 21 at 5pm PST
WHERE: Pepsi Center — Denver, CO
HOW TO WATCH: NBC Sports Bay Area
BLOG BUDDY: Denver Stiffs
A Mile High mountain of a team
The Nuggets are another one of those plucky up-and-coming teams that seems to be on the cusp of putting it all together. They finished ninth in the West last year, narrowly losing out on the playoffs. They look slightly different compared to past iterations after trading away many of their old mainstays in order to focus on their youth movement. Darrell Arthur (Phoenix), Wilson Chandler (Philadelphia), Kenneth Faried (Brooklyn), Devin Harris (Dallas) and Richard Jefferson (retired) are all gone.
This year, the team clearly expects to make the playoffs. In order to do so, they will need their young big man to play like a star. Nikola Jokic is in just his third season but is already a dominant player. Last season he led the Nuggets in points, rebounds and assists (on around 24% usage). It will be difficult for him to have a better season than last year, but accomplishing exactly that will be a hugely defining element to the team’s overall success this year.
Young Talent to watch
Next to Jokic, Denver has a bevy of offensive options at their disposal. Look for Paul Milsap to work his crafty non-jumping magic down low while providing a modicum of post defense, while wings like Will Barton and Jamal Murray fly around the edges and cause damage off of the nifty passing of Jokic. He put up a nasty stat line last night, a 35 point triple-double (but to be fair, it was against the Suns).
Sadly, it looks like Barton may have suffered a serious injury in that same game last night:
If Barton misses significant time, which seems likely right now, that’s— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) October 21, 2018
Isaiah Thomas, backup PG — no timetable
Will Barton, starting SF — out TBD
Michael Porter Jr., first round pick, probably future starting wing — no timetable
Vanderbilt also out with no timetable.
Watch Murray as well - he was the player voted by GMs to be the “most improved” this season. While he may be one of the more promising young point guards, the Warriors have a guy named Stephen Curry who stands atop the point guard pantheon. Murray will surely take this matchup as a meaningful early season gauge of his progress, which means he’ll be working as hard as possible.
Defensively the Nuggets have struggled a bit. They had the 25th ranked defense last season and turn the ball over a ton (where they were 22nd in the league last year in spite of not playing especially fast). Denver put up some admirable defense to defeat the Los Angles Clippers on opening night, but will need to dig a whole lot deeper if they hope to slow down the mighty Warriors offense. Supposedly the team worked almost exclusively on defense during this year’s training camp, but playing the Warriors may make all that talk evaporate quicker than a fart on a motorcycle.
The Golden (sub)Standard Warriors
The Warriors are the underachieving smart kid in every class. After lazily meandering through most of the 2017-18 season and blowing the #1 seed, Golden State still somehow managed to not just win their third title in four years, but they did so via a sweep in the Finals.
So you can understand (I hope) if they are maybe a bit lackadaisical when it comes to the regular season. That said, they coughed up 81 points in the first half against the Jazz on Friday and spent most of the night down by double digits. At this point, I’m not even sure if they need to come out more focused for this game against the Nuggets, but it sure would make it a lot easier on the fans watching from home.
Schedule Gods have mercy!
This early season road trip is no joke. After taking on Utah on Friday and Denver today, the Warriors will turn around and play a back-to-back on Monday. It’s still early in the season but it may be worth noting that Durant (38.5) and Curry (37) are both playing a bit more minutes than normal. Some of this is certainly due to the team not having stalwart settling bench hero, Andre Iguodala available. A game in Denver, with a back-to-back looming would be a great time for Iguodala to come back to us.
Also keep an eye on the minutes at center. After promising to “hardly ever” play Draymond Green at center, Kerr has already gone to that a few times in the first two games. One issue may very well be the fouling. Jones had the worst foul rate on the team last year, and is once again hacking up a storm; take a look at the fouls so far this season per 36 minutes of playing time:
I looked, but couldn’t find any quotes from Kerr after the Jazz game regarding Bell. You got to respect the sample size here, so sitting out one game may mean nothing, but if Kerr opts for Green at center and doesn’t play Bell at all it will certainly raise a lot of eyebrows. On the other hand, he could just be saving him for this back-to-back. Who knows?
A tight game in Denver will eventually sway in the Warriors favor. They were lucky to escape Utah with a win, but I think they’ll learn from that and not fall as far behind against a Denver team that has beaten them at least once in each of the past four seasons. Respect, but the Dubs pull this out 117-108