Denver Nuggets' Crucial Stretch of Four Games in Five Nights Starts Tuesday

Rich KurtzmanSenior Analyst IJanuary 31, 2012

DENVER, CO - JANUARY 09:  Nene Hilario #31 of the Denver Nuggets controls the ball against the New Orleans Hornets at the Pepsi Center on January 9, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. The Hornets defeated the Nuggets 94-81. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

After winning six of their last seven games, including a franchise-record five on the road, the Denver Nuggets are the hottest team in the NBA.

Their 14-6 record stands as second best in the West, just two games back of Oklahoma City at 16-4.

Denver's withstood many minor injuries already this season as starters Nene, Ty Lawson and Arron Afflalo have missed nine games combined.

Now, the Nuggets enter a crucial four-game-in-five-nights stretch against teams that are all currently .500 or better, with a combined record of 46-34.

Let's take a quick look at each team and how the Nuggs can win each game, shall we?


Tonight, 6 p.m. MST @ Memphis

The Grizzlies (10-10) were the surprise of the NBA last season as they snuck into the playoffs as the West's No. 8 seed and quickly dismantled the aging No. 1 seed Spurs.

This season though, with Rudy Gay back to full health, Memphis may actually be better.

The Griz aren't one of the most prolific scoring teams in the league, at 93.2 points per game, but their defense is dominant, only allowing 92 per. And the way they score is very similar to the Nuggets, as Memphis is third in points in the paint (44.5 per) and fifth in fast-break points (17.2 per).

Denver can win in Memphis tonight if it utilizes its depth and athleticism, running in the transition game as it does better than anyone else in the Association. Yes, fast-breaking is a strength of the Grizzlies too, but Memphis doesn't want to get into a shootout against the Nuggets, the highest-scoring team in the league.

And if Denver hits its three-pointers, the game could get ugly for Memphis fans.


Thursday, 8:30 p.m. MST @ LA Clippers

The Clippers (12-6) are a much-improved team this season, and their 109-105 win in Denver on Sunday is surely still a sore topic in the Mile High City.

The Nuggets led for most of the game, but Chauncey Billups led his Clippers to victory in the fourth quarter, ending Denver's six-game winning streak.

Still, Denver was without lightning-quick point guard Ty Lawson, who has the rare ability to keep up with Chris Paul and force him to exert energy on the defensive end as well. Lawson changes the entire complexion of the Nuggets' offense, as he fuels the fast break and pushes his teammates to run the floor, which results in easy layups more often than not.

With Lawson expected to play Tuesday, if not Thursday almost certainly, Denver's high-octane offense should be in full swing again, and it will make for a fantastic nationally televised game (TNT).


Friday, 8:30 p.m. MST vs. L.A. Lakers

The other LA team is struggling a bit as of late, as many of its players are later in their careers—namely Kobe Bryant.

At 12-9, the Lakers are in seventh in the West, and their scoring is down to 93 points per contest, 12.8 less than the Nuggets' average (105.8).

But what L.A. does better than Denver is rebound the ball, with Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol each nearly averaging double-doubles. The Nuggets' deep rotation of bigs in Nene, Timofey Mozgov, Al Harrington and Chris Andersen will have to bring their best rebounding efforts to help limit L.A.'s twin towers, and if they can, it will definitely bode well for Denver.


Saturday, 8:00 p.m. MST @ Portland

The Trail Blazers (12-9) have been buoyed by LaMarcus Aldridge enjoying a career year, averaging 22.6 points and 8.8 rebounds per game. Aldridge has been huge—literally and figuratively—for Portland, yet the Blazers are a deep team like Denver.

That depth, which includes Gerald Wallace, Raymond Felton, Nicolas Batum, Jamal Crawford and Marcus Camby, makes the Trail Blazers a talented team that will certainly compete with the Nuggets on Saturday in the Rose Garden.

Where Denver can win is by utilizing its transition game, running the older Blazers out of their own gym, as Portland gives up a 28th-best 15.5 fast-break points per game. The Nuggets' bigs of Nene and Danilo Gallinari run the floor as well as any near seven-footers in the league, which will wear out Camby and Wallace as Denver practices their layup drills.

However, the Nuggs could be quite tired, as this will be their fourth game in five nights, and it will be interesting to see how deep into the bench George Karl is willing to go given the energy level of his go-to guys.

Overall, this is one of many crucial stretches for the Nuggets during this strike-shortened season. If they can go out and play their game—running the break, unselfishly moving the ball for open looks and playing high-energy defense—Denver could win every game.

Though, because the Nuggets rely on fresh legs and energy, this crazy trip could tire Denver out a bit, making the last two games difficult to run in.

If the Nuggets can somehow win every game, it would be amazing, while going 3-1 on this trip is certainly possible.


Rich Kurtzman is a freelance journalist actively seeking a career in journalism. Along with being your Denver Nuggets Featured Columnist, Rich is the Denver Broncos and CSU Rams Examiner, and Kurtzman also writes for Blake Street Bulletin, Stadium Journey and Mile High Hoops.

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