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5 Things to Look for in Golden State Warriors' Matchup with Denver Nuggets

Nathaniel JueSenior Writer IIJanuary 15, 2014

5 Things to Look for in Golden State Warriors' Matchup with Denver Nuggets

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    Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

    The Golden State Warriors head into Wednesday’s tilt against the Denver Nuggets as one of the NBA’s hottest teams. Winners of 11 of their last 12 contests, the Dubs have gained both a lot of national attention during their ascent up the Western Conference standings and a ton of bandwagoners along the way.

    A lot of those fans hopped on during Golden State’s recent seven-game Eastern Conference road trip. After all, the Warriors won the first six games in a row, including an impressive dismantling of the two-time defending NBA champion Miami Heat and were well within reach of an unprecedented 7-0 road trip when they arrived in Brooklyn last Wednesday.

    Despite falling to the Nets, the Warriors remain in consideration for the league’s most consistent and dangerous squad at the moment.

    Behind the offensive deluge of Splash Brothers Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, the scoring consistency of forward David Lee and the dominant paint presence of Andrew Bogut, the Warriors are primed for loftier aspirations than a mere playoff berth. Golden State is homing in on a Pacific Division title and ultimately a lengthy postseason run that culminates into the NBA Finals.

    Those are the macro, big-picture goals for the Dubs. The nearsighted approach is to take one game at a time, and the next obstacle in Golden State’s path is the always-pesky Denver Nuggets.

    Here are five things to look for in the Warriors’ game against Denver on Wednesday.

Rested, Rejuvenated

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    Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

    The Warriors returned home to Oakland last week after playing seven road games in 11 days. For any team, an extended period of traveling and competing can be both mentally and physically grueling.

    So while the Dubs were undoubtedly glad to be back at the Oracle last Friday against the Boston Celtics, it was evident that they were a bit fatigued. Golden State escaped with a 99-97 victory.

    With the four days of downtime since that game, the Warriors gain another advantage: rest.

    Four days off in the NBA is like a bye week. Players are able to heal any nagging health issues. They are allowed to refresh their bodies which, for the Warriors, is key. The Dubs already pay a lot of attention to the fragility of both Steph Curry and Andrew Bogut. In addition, starting swingman Andre Iguodala has been playing despite a hamstring strain that kept him out of action for 12 games.

    But, given the off time, Golden State looks to get healthier as it heads into a critical portion of the schedule. Including Wednesday’s matchup with Denver, 12 of the Warriors’ next 17 games are at home (with one of those road games taking place in Sacramento). So this is a great opportunity for the team to get healthy and stay healthy.

    The Dubs should be rejuvenated heading into Wednesday’s game, raring to get back into the swing of things and keep their winning momentum going. That is bad news for the Nuggets. Facing a hot team is tough as it is. Facing a rested, healthier hot team can’t be any more desirable.

High Scoring

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    Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

    Though the Dubs would like to be known more for their defensive prowess, there’s no doubt that the Warriors are a potent offensive team.

    With the splashing downtown threats of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, the inside post game of David Lee and the all-around skill set of Andre Iguodala, the Warriors possess one of the most prolific, lethal and entertaining offenses in the entire league. Golden State ranks eighth in the NBA in offense, scoring 103.3 points per game, but that number goes up to 105.1 in the comforts of Oracle Arena.

    Meanwhile, the Nuggets have struggled on the defensive end, allowing 101.6 points per game to their opponents, the 21st-best mark in the league. Those numbers have been inflated of late: In Denver’s last five road games, the team has allowed an average of 114.0 points.

    Conversely, Denver is no slouch on offense either. The Nuggets rank sixth in road points per game, scoring 102.7 a contest.

    Add the fact that the Dubs will be well-rested and running on fresh legs, expect this game to be an up-and-down track meet with a bevy of breakaway baskets and shots from downtown.

Battle of the Frontcourts

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    Gary Dineen/Getty Images

    Each team’s leading scorer is its respective point guard. Golden State’s Steph Curry is pouring in 23.0 points per game, while Denver’s Ty Lawson is scoring 17.9.

    Despite most of the explosiveness coming from each team’s backcourt, the focus of this game will come down to which team wins the battle of the paint.

    It will be a tremendous head-to-head tussle. The Nuggets are a physical team with a strong frontcourt, with Kenneth Faried, J.J. Hickson and Timofey Mozgov each averaging at least 19 minutes a game.

    Behind this front line, the Nuggets rank third in the league in blocks per game (5.9). This might mitigate the Warriors’ post presence in general and make for a lot of outside-inside ball movement to open three-point shooters (Curry and Klay Thompson). David Lee will have his hands full attempting to get to the bucket against Denver’s stout defensive front.

    Additionally, the Nuggets rank fourth in total rebounds per game (46.2). But just ahead of Denver is Golden State, which ranks third in the NBA in rebounding at 46.5 per contest. The Dubs own two of the most prolific rebounders in the game, with Andrew Bogut (10.3) and Lee (9.9) both among the top 12 in the league.

    Gaining the rebounding advantage is especially important for the Warriors in this contest. The Nuggets allow the sixth-most offensive rebounds to their opponents (11.9). So if Golden State can corral more loose balls and gain more offensive possessions, the Warriors will be in good shape.

    Whichever team dominates the key—rebounding, defending and inside scoring—will come out on top in this game.

Who Comes off the Bench?

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    Gary Dineen/Getty Images

    The other key to this game is the production of both teams’ second units.

    It is well known that the Warriors have had very little output from anyone not in the starting rotation.

    While the team has stated that it is comfortable with its role players, the front office obviously made a statement Wednesday by trading backup point guard Toney Douglas to the Miami Heat while acquiring Jordan Crawford and MarShon Brooks from the Boston Celtics, as Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reported.

    This surely is an attempt to upgrade the bench, which has struggled mightily to produce. Many games have resulted in the starters coming back off the bench to finish games because the Dubs’ second unit has not held off opponents’ comeback attempts.

    Given the fact that Douglas will now no longer be with the team and that the availability of Crawford and Brooks is undetermined for Wednesday’s game, the Warriors will have to look hard at where they will get some quality bench minutes from their remaining players. They will have to turn to Nemanja Nedovic to back up Steph Curry, though the rookie has played in only one game since December 18.

    Golden State has had a rough go of it when its starters are resting. So it will be interesting to see how Wednesday’s game will turn out with the team’s bench rotation a bit thinner.

In Need of a Conference Victory

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    Bart Young/Getty Images

    Despite coming in as the league’s hottest team, the Warriors should not assume that this game will be an easy victory. It is important that the Dubs don't take this game against the Nuggets lightly, even with the NBA’s best home crowd behind them.

    Though they a legitimate playoff team that is sitting one game out of the top spot in the Pacific Division, the Warriors have done most of their damage against Eastern Conference opponents (10-2 record). Versus Western Conference foes, however, Golden State has a 13-10 record. Not bad, given the parity and competitiveness in the West. But not the type of record that screams "elite."

    If the Dubs truly want to be considered among the best in the West, they need to handle these games against the middling teams in their conference.

    Yes, it’s always going to be difficult to consistently beat the Spurs, Clippers, Thunder and Blazers, but the Warriors have to put away the Western teams that are good but not great. Losing to squads like Phoenix, Dallas and Denver is not acceptable for a team that has aspirations of a division title, home-court advantage and an appearance in the NBA Finals.

    If the Warriors want to further cement their place in the top tier of both the Western Conference and the NBA, they need to ensure that they do not lose—at home—to an ordinary team like the Nuggets.

     

    Follow me on Twitter: @nathanieljue

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