Without Paul Millsap, The Denver Nuggets Look to Hold Up Against Cleveland

The Denver Nuggets have had two quality wins in a row. Saturday’s game presents an opportunity to rest some guys and spread the burden a little more ahead of Sunday’s game against the Clippers.

The Denver Nuggets have been on an offensive tear recently. This is nothing but further evidence of ‘How Jokic goes, so does the Nuggets’. With Jokic back into form, the Nuggets have been rolling.

This might not be enough this game. The Nuggets will need help to come from elsewhere, not only for this game, but relying entirely on Jokic won’t be sustainable long term. Cleveland presents an opportunity to see this. It presents an even more unique opportunity with Paul Millsap (knee) missing this game as well.

Matchups:

Nikola Jokic has had a tough time with Tristan Thompson before, only scoring 4 points in their matchup last year and 9 in their matchup in the previous year. Thompson is a strong defensive anchor that’s tough to beat in the post. While Jokic could still find success against him, the Nuggets should look to other positions for scoring.

The Cavaliers are second-worst in the NBA in defensive rating. No one outside of Tristan Thompson is much of an ample defender. ESPN’s RPM has their starting guard tandem of Collin Sexton and Darius Garland as one of the worst guard combo’s by defense.  Collin Sexton Specifically is the 5th worst defensive point guard by RPM, and he is the 3rd worst defender overall by Player Impact Plus-Minus.

Noting this, Jamal Murray should look to put up very large numbers. It’s an opportunity for him to improve on his offensive game moving deeper into the season. Even Gary Harris, who has struggled with his shot recently, could find solid looks around the rim by beating his man.

The Cavaliers forward combo in Cedi Osman and Kevin Love are not know for their defensive prowess either. With Millsap out, the Nuggets will run Will Barton, Jerami Grant, and Michael Porter Jr as the forward rotation, with Millsap sidelined. All three have the capability to score at will against the Cavalier’s complete lack of wing defense.

Their defense would be slightly more concerning with Dante Exum, but he’s listed as out (illness).

The Bench:

The Denver Nuggets have struggled to maximize the talent on their bench unit this season. Every member of the bench unit has a negative net rating on the year (per Cleaning the Glass).

Fortunately, the Nuggets bench shouldn’t have a huge challenge this game. Cleveland has run a 4 man bench rotation consisting of Ante Zizic, Brandon Knight, Matthew Dellavedova, and Alfonso McKinnie. In their last contest, these players scored 13 combined points in 60 minutes.

A bench unit that plays Malik Beasley and Michael Porter Jr should overwhelm the wing defense capacities of Cleveland.

Overall:

This shouldn’t be another trap game for Denver. Especially considering that the Wizards was not as bad of a game in hindsight (they also recently beat the Heat and Celtics).

The Denver Nuggets are slowly elevating their game as the season progresses, but we have yet to see a complete game from all units. Cleveland could be the first of these games as Denver moves deeper into a difficult January schedule.

 

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