NEW YORK – The Nuggets end a four-game road trip with their third game in four nights on Monday at the New York Knicks. A win tonight would give the Nuggets a three-game win streak and their third win on the road swing.
“The biggest challenge is third game in four nights, second game of a back-to-back,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “What I’ve seen a lot of times is, great win for us, don’t come up for air; stay hungry and let’s go home with a 3-1 road trip as opposed to 2-2.
“That’s a sign of a mature team. That’s the sign of a team that has much bigger goals than just beating Brooklyn or beating New York. This is a big picture thing. So, we have to go in there (Monday) night with the right mindset mentally as well as physically.”
How do the Nuggets come out with a win? Start with these things.
Starters vs. Starters. While Nuggets starters were busy racking up 92 points and combining for an unheard plus/minus total of +127, Knicks starters were doing similar things in Cleveland. The quintet of Jarrett Jack, Courtney Lee, Tim Hardaway Jr., Kristaps Porzingis and Enes Kanter scored 101 of the Knicks 114 points in their victory on Sunday, and combined for a big plus/minus total of +92. So, Nuggets starters will have their hands full tonight. Winning that matchup would set the Nuggets’ bench up to create some scoreboard separation against a Knicks bench that is averaging just 26.4 points per game so far this season.
Stop Tim Hardaway Jr. before he starts. The athletic son of former NBA star Tim Hardaway is as difficult to stop as any player once he gets rolling. Cleveland saw that firsthand on Sunday. Hardaway Jr. got going early, and ended up with 34 points when all was said and done. He can knock down 3-point shots, slash to the rim and catch alley-oop dunks. He cuts hard to the rim when he’s off the ball, and is generally extremely active. But if he misses a few shots under good defensive pressure early, his chances of bouncing back in the same game and still putting up a big number decrease exponentially. Nuggets defenders must cut his space early and hound him all night long.
Pressure on all shooting. The Knicks have had an unremarkable shooting start this season, especially from the 3-point line where they’ve made just 31.6 percent, but they did shoot the ball well from range in a win over the reeling Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday. The Knicks made 13 3-pointers, led by Hardaway’s five. Courtney Lee also knocked in three out of six attempts. New York has players capable of having a big shooting night, but that struggle under duress. The Nuggets were good in the second half at Brooklyn at being there in contesting shots, and it paid dividends. Do that again tonight, and they’ll give themselves a solid chance to win.
Nikola revenge. Nikola Jokic had his best day as a professional in a Nuggets’ win last year at Madison Square Garden, scoring a career-high 40 points on 17-of-23 shooting, and generally just looking unstoppable. New York’s young phenom, Kristaps Porzingis, never heard the end of it, and you can be sure he’s looking to even the score on Monday night. Jokic is going to receive a ton of defensive attention. Can he handle that, still be productive and make the plays the Nuggets are accustomed to getting from him in order to win?
Chandler’s aggressiveness. Wilson Chandler had a huge game on Sunday night with 18 points – 14 points came in the third quarter as Chandler made 5-of-6 shots from the field and 2-of-2 shots from the 3-point line. And it was built off of one thing: Aggressiveness. Chandler caught the ball with the intent to score each time, and did just that. It’s no secret that he can be an explosive scorer, and when he looks to do it he’s as good as there is on the team. In that third Chandler put everything on display – he ran the court, slashed to the rim and stepped into 3-point shots in rhythm. His production takes the Nuggets’ offense from good to great. A repeat performance would go a long way for the team’s chances of winning.
INJURY REPORT: Juancho Hernangomez (mononucleosis) is the only player not available for tonight’s game.
Christopher Dempsey: email@example.com and @chrisadempsey on Twitter