The playoffs are set (outside of the Play-In games) and the Denver Nuggets are facing off against the Golden State Warriors in the first round. The sixth-seeded Nuggets will still be missing two of their best players but there’s a secret weapon Michael Malone could use to swing the series.
Nikola Jokic is going to put up numbers in any series and a key deciding matchup is between him and the combination of Draymond Green and Kevon Looney. In every regular season matchup, Green wasn’t on the court for the battle between the best offensive player and best defensive player in the game.
But Michael Malone’s secret weapon will be the old Hack-a-Shaq technique that was supposed to be removed from the game years ago. The rule wasn’t completely removed as teams can still intentionally foul away from the ball outside of the last two minutes of each quarter and any overtime.
The Denver Nuggets’ secret weapon in the Golden State Warriors series is Andrew Wiggins
Andrew Wiggins made his first All-Star team this season, surprising many and making the starting team despite not being a superstar. In 54 games before the All-Star break, he averaged 17.7 points, pulled down 4.2 rebounds, and shot 48 percent from the floor, 41 percent from the three-point line, and 66 percent at the charity stripe.
He grew into the ideal 3-and-D role player alongside the Warriors’ core of Steph, Klay Thompson, and Green. It was perfect.
But whether it was him reading his DMs after the break, a lack of confidence, or something else, Wiggins dropped off after the break, and in 19 games after the break, he averaged 15.7 points and 5.2 rebounds while shooting 43 percent from the floor, 34 percent from behind the arc, and a horrible 56 percent from the free throw line.
His shooting stroke completely abandoned him and some teams even decided to intentionally foul him in close games as a way to come back.
He had some solid performances to finish the regular season including knocking down some big shots in a comeback victory against the Utah Jazz, but it doesn’t offset his slump for half the season.
With essentially nothing to lose, expect Malone to try everything he can to get the win. If it’s close in the fourth quarter and Steve Kerr wants to run with Wiggins, Malone could insert an end-of-bench player like Facundo Campazzo and put Andrew on the line.
Even if Wiggins is off the court, Looney is a sub-far free throw shooter and he could even be a Hack-a target late in games.
This might be the first playoff series since the rule change where a team has really been hurt by late-game hacking, especially when Steph and Jordan Poole are the two best free throw shooters in the league.
Kerr has always shown a willingness to stick with “his guys” (*cough* Festus Ezeli at the end of the 2016 Finals *cough*) despite their on-court struggles but if it’s untenable to keep one of these two on the floor, the Nuggets could get a slight talent advantage.
Add in the fact that they don’t have a great secondary option to defend Jokic and the Warriors’ ‘Strength in Numbers’ mantra could really take a hit.
The Warriors will likely try and not play Nemanja Bejlica. When he’s hitting his shots, he makes for a solid rotation piece in the regular season, but if he touches the court in the playoffs, opposing teams will be licking their lips.
If Steve Kerr can’t run with Looney or Wiggins and either big position, he might be forced to go deeper into his bench.