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Brooklyn Nets vs. Denver Nuggets preview: Nets take on NBA champs

You know the line: out of the frying pan into the fire. The fire tonight is in Denver, home of the defending NBA champs.

Denver Nuggets v Chicago Bulls Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

That was fun! It was a family affair last night as the Brooklyn Nets and Phoenix Suns squared off. Old friends got to see each other for the first time in a while, and it was a festive, emotional night. Both teams put on a show and the Nets came away with a hard fought, well earned victory.

Last night was tough, and tonight’s opponent stands on top of the NBA mountain. The Denver Nuggets stampeded through last year’s playoffs en route to their first NBA championship. There hasn’t been much championship hangover and the team is a good bet to be a top two seed by the time the regular season ends. They helped the cause by beating the Chicago Bulls on Tuesday night.

Where to follow the game

YES Network on TV. WFAN on radio. Late night so we getting going after 9:00 p.m. ET.

Injuries

No Ben Simmons, Dennis Smith Jr or Lonnie Walker IV. Jacque Vaughn said last night he wasn’t planning any rest for his starters, but said he and his staff will look at things today.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is in concussion protocol. Jamal Murray is probable with bilateral ankle sprains. Aaron Gordon is probable with a right heel strain.

The game

Reggie Jackson has been absolutely essential for the Nuggets this season. You know who has more on Reggie? Our main man, Matt Brooks!

It’s always great to see your friends succeed in new environments.

For the Nets, they’re going to need to summon every bit of energy they have left to pull this one out. Road trips are hard, back-to-backs are harder, and combining them as you head into altitude against an excellent team? Games like these test the will, resolve, and togetherness of your ballclub.

As usual, this game will be decided behind the three point line. The Nets are eighth in three point attempts per game, but the Nuggets allowed the third fewest threes per game. Among other issues on Monday, the Nets couldn’t keep up with the Sacramento Kings from deep and paid for it.

With Murray likely back, the Nuggets won’t have to overburden their bench. It’s a young group and sometimes young players aren’t able to meet the demands of contributing to a title contender. Luckily, they have All Star veterans who can guide them through the journey that is the regular season and put them in great position to be the best versions of themselves.

The great thing about Cam Thomas is that even when his shot isn’t there, he’s gonna keep firing. That confidence can sometimes shoot you out of a game, but last night he kept the Nets alive with ten fourth quarter points and two clutch free throws to seal the deal. It’s moments like that that make you want to live with the growing pains, lapses on defense, etc. It’s something Jacque Vaughn spoke to in pregame yesterday:

Speaking of confidence, Michael Porter Jr. is here! MPJ is always someone that can heat up at a moment’s notice and his size and athleticism makes him someone to always keep an eye on. He’s never been the greatest defender, so it’ll be interesting to see who Michael Malone has guarding Mikal Bridges. Chances are Christian Braun and Justin Holiday get the bulk of that matchup. As we alluded to earlier, the youth of this Denver team will dictate a lot of how they make it through the regular season.

As the team leader, it’s up to Bridges to ensure the team has the proper focus and energy to start this game off. Mikal has plenty of experience playing in Denver

Player to watch: Nikola Jokic

So, I think it’s time we had a conversation about NBA officiating. On Tuesday, the Joker got kicked out of the game, and nobody really has a good reason as to why:

We wanna watch the best athletes hoop and compete against each other. There have been too many instances where the refs make themselves part of the story instead of getting out the way and letting the athletes do their thing. Get out the way, ref!

In the meantime, Jokic is back to looking like himself after a two game mini-slump. There was some concern after he had back-to-back games shooting under40% on extremely high volume, but he’s passed that. We know the deal with the big guy: he has such soft touch at the rim, is a beast on the interior, and one of the best passers the game of basketball has ever seen. The past year has been a validation of all of his excellence and a stark repudiation of all the folks who tried to belittle and downplay his game. Appreciate greatness. Let’s just hope the officiating crew doesn’t send him home early!

Nic Claxton played 33 minutes last night, the second highest total for him this season (the first was the overtime loss against the Atlanta Hawks). Day’ron Sharpe only played seven minutes, his lowest since the game against the Milwaukee Bucks. Jacque Vaughn shouted Sharpe out and mentioned that even in his limited role last night, he’s always someone that stays ready. That’ll be put to the test tonight as he and Clax do battle with the MVP. The two young big men have been a solid one-two combination and have both helped the Nets be one of the best rebounding teams in the league. They’re going to have to avoid foul trouble at all costs if they want to have a chance to defeat the Joker. A game like this is a great measuring stick and can showcase how much they’ve grown over time.

From the Vault

On Tuesday, Andre Braugher passed away at the age of 61. I got familiar with him and his work through the amazing Brooklyn Nine-Nine, so let’s pull up a seat and enjoy the best of Captain Raymond Holt!

More reading: Denver Stiffs, SB Nation NBA, Nets Republic, Denver Nuggets website (read Matt’s work!), Mile High Sports