The short-handed Denver Nuggets will go for the season sweep of the Houston Rockets on Saturday night in a potential Western Conference first-round playoff preview.
Denver has won all three meetings with Houston this season, including a 118-110 victory at the Pepsi Center back in January. Unfortunately for the Nuggets, their leading scorer in that game and second-leading scorer this season, Danilo Gallinari, has been lost for the season after suffering a torn ACL Thursday against the Dallas Mavericks.
Now, despite boasting an NBA-best 34-3 home record and having won 19 straight in the Mile-High City, the Nuggets enter Saturday night's matchup amid doom and gloom.
On the flip side, the Rockets have their own concerns, as they've yet to clinch a playoff berth and will be playing on the second night of a back-to-back after crushing the Trail Blazers in Portland on Friday night.
Here, we'll get you set for this weekend's potential postseason warm-up between two of the league's highest-scoring teams in Denver.
Where: Pepsi Center in Denver
When: Saturday, April 6 at 9 p.m. ET
Watch: Altitude 2 Sports
Live Streaming: NBA League Pass (paid subscription required)
Betting Line: Nuggets (-6), according to Covers.com.
Key Injuries (according to USA Today)
Chandler Parsons (Calf), questionable
Carlos Delfino (Foot), questionable
Danilo Gallinari (Knee), out for season
Ty Lawson (Heel), out indefinitely
Julyan Stone (Knee), out
Rockets Player to Watch: Omer Asik
Houston's 7'0" center, Omer Asik, has been a rebounding machine against the Denver Nuggets this season, averaging 14.6 boards per game in three games against Denver, including five offensive rebounds per game.
With Gallinari's seven rebounds per game (vs. Houston) missing on Saturday night, look for Asik to be a huge factor on the glass, especially at the offensive end following up Houston's misses.
Asik will need to have a solid rebounding night in order for the Rockets to avoid being swept, as Denver ranks third in the NBA in rebounding this season, pulling in nearly 45 boards per night.
The Rockets rank inside the top 10 in rebounding as well, but they have been out-rebounded in two of three meetings with the Nuggets and are minus-7 on the boards against Denver this season.
Nuggets Player to Watch: Andre Iguodala
With both Danilo Gallinari and Ty Lawson sidelined on Saturday night, Andre Iguodala will have to step up his game in order for Denver to keep its impressive home winning streak alive.
The veteran guard is averaging 14 points per game in three starts against Houston this season, but he's shooting a dismal 15 percent from three-point range in three meetings with the Rockets. Iguodala has to be more efficient on Saturday and look to be much more aggressive on the offensive end in the absence of Gallinari.
Iguodala scored just eight points on 3-of-13 shooting from the field in 41 minutes against Dallas in his most recent outing on Thursday night. That sort of performance against a playoff team in Houston will get Denver beat this weekend.
Key Matchup: James Harden vs. Denver Defense
The four teams that Rockets superstar James Harden is struggling most against this season are Memphis, Utah, Indiana and Denver. Despite averaging a career-high 26 points per game this season, Harden is scoring just 19.7 points on average against the Nuggets, who have held him to 42 percent shooting from the floor and 23 percent shooting from beyond the arc.
Harden hasn't scored more than 23 points against the Nuggets this season, and it's key for Denver that he remain below his season average on Saturday night (via ESPN Stats & Info).
James Harden's avg of 25.9 PPG is by far the largest of any player that switched teams in the offseason (h/t @eliassports)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 5, 2013
The former Arizona State Sun Devil lit up Portland for 33 points on Friday and is averaging 27 points per game in two games this April. If Denver's perimeter defenders don't force Harden to work for every shot, the Nuggets will be in for a long night.
At the same time, if Harden isn't shining like he was on Friday, Denver's streak will be safe, as the absence of Chandler Parsons in the Houston rotation has already provided a major setback for the Rockets offense.
Which team will make a deeper playoff run in 2013?
The Nuggets can respond one of two ways in the wake of Danilo Gallinari's season-ending knee injury on Saturday night: Denver can either collapse against a talented Rockets team or rally and extend its home winning streak while inching closer to securing the No. 3 seed out West. I look for the Nuggets to rally instead of sulking over their loss.
George Karl's squad has had its way against Houston all season long home and away, and that won't look to change on Saturday, as the Nuggets will once again boast a mighty home-court advantage over their Western Conference rivals.
Expect another close battle, with the Nuggets finding a way in the end.
Nuggets 110, Rockets 102
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