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Regular Season Game No. 5 | Denver Nuggets (2-2) at Detroit Pistons (3-2)

The Palace of Auburn Hills, Auburn Hills, Michigan | 5:00 PM MST | TV: Altitude

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After holding off a Timberwolves fourth-quarter rally in Minnesota Thursday, the Denver Nuggets continue their five-game road trip in Detroit, where they’ll face the Pistons Saturday night.

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Here’s what to watch for:

Andre Drummond vs. Jusuf Nurkic

For Detroit, who’s still without Reggie Jackson as he works his way back from left knee tendinitis, Drummond is the engine that makes the Pistons’ wheels spin. This season he’s averaging 12.6 points and 13.6 rebounds per game, down from the 16.2 and 14.8 he put up last year and Drummond was recently benched in Detroit’s 109-101 loss to the Brooklyn Nets where coach Stan Van Gundy said he “didn’t bring any energy to the game.”

Drummond is the most terrorizing force Nurkic and the Nuggets frontline has faced on the glass this year and while Denver is rebounding 56 percent of their total rebounds available, the second-best mark in the league, and leading the league in rebounds at 52.3 per game, Nurkic, Nikola Jokic, Darrell Arthur and Kenneth Faried have to make it a point of emphasis to limit Drummond on the glass tonight.

Like they’ve done through four games, the Nuggets will once again try to establish Nurkic in the post on offense, but against the physical Drummond, that notion could prove difficult yet it’s not likely something Denver will go away from anytime soon. Nurkic has been fantastic this season averaging 16.5 points and 10.3 rebounds per game while shooting a career-best 51 percent from the field.

Gary Harris is back

Harris reportedly went through a practice Friday, shootaround Saturday morning and could log 15-20 minutes off the bench against Detroit. The 22-year-old partially tore his right groin in Denver’s first preseason game back on October 3 and has been sidelined since.

With Harris back in the fold, rookie Jamal Murray will still start, but his run in the starting lineup could be short lived depending on when Harris gets back to playing around 30 minutes per game and Will Barton is able to return from a sprained ankle he suffered against Toronto October 31. Murray played 29 minutes in Minnesota Thursday and went scoreless, but did dish out four assists to just one turnover. The rookie is still searching for the first field goal of his NBA career and currently sits at 0-16 from the field on the season.

Another test for “Jurkic”

Denver’s frontcourt has been dissected and debated throughout this young season and will be up against another test tonight in the Pistons who pose problems for the Nuggets’ twin towers look.

Detroit has just two true interior players in their rotation: Starting center Drummond, and backup big man Aron Baynes. Next to them, the Pistons play a versatile stretch four (or in some cases a traditional small forward) in Tobias Harris, Marcus Morris, Stanley Johnson and John Leuer and outside of Leuer, it’s hard to imagine Jokic staying with any of those potential four-men. How the Nuggets adjust to Detroit’s smaller look, and how the Pistons counter Denver’s Balkan Buddy Ball may be the story of the evening.

“We’re going to start big,” Malone said, courtesy of the Denver Post. “We’re going to do what we do. We’ll have to keep an eye on that matchup because they are going to play through those guys a lot, high pick-and-rolls and also post ups. So we’ll see what our big lineup does, if we have to make changes quickly we can.”

I gave my thoughts on how I’d play Nurkic and Jokic together in this weekend’s mailbag, but in short, I’d stagger the two and generally play Jokic with the starters and Nurkic with the bench unit. An outlier from that argument would be tonight, as Nurkic is much more suited to bang with Drummond than Jokic.

Footnotes:

What a start to the season for Tobias Harris. The Detroit swingman has picked up the Pistons’ offense without Jackson and is averaging a career-high 20.8 points to go along with 5.6 rebounds per game. He’s also shooting 58.2 percent from the field and 52.9 percent (9-17) from three. Harris’s number will regress and the best he’s shot from three in his career was 37.5 percent last season but Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler will have to be on their p’s and q’s defensively against Harris.

 

Harrison Wind

Harrison is a Boulder, Colorado native who graduated from CU-Boulder in 2013. He is currently residing in downtown Denver and is the lead Nuggets writer for BSN Denver. Harrison is in his second year covering the Nuggets as a credentialed reporter. You can follow him on Twitter @NBAWind.

  • Malone Rules

    The better way to utilize Balkan Buddy Ball is to have Jokic screen for Mudiay/Murray around the topside of the key where it can open up a quick 15-17 ft shot/drive or a pass to Jokic off of the roll for a pick and pop/floater in the lane—instead of the useless bailout initial play where our post men run out 2ft past the three point line to catch the ball where they are not a scoring threat and try to initiate offense because “we are trying to ease pressure off of Mudiay as a young PG in facilitating offense”. Well…the result has consistently been Mudiay shooting the most shots on the team with the worst FG% of the starters. I like Mudiay’s potential, but the only way for him to improve as a real point guard and scoring threat is to play Real PICK and ROLL over and over again in practice and in games until he
    gets IT or to limit his minutes until he does play with better effectiveness. It looks like he has improved his FT shooting and I think he can improve more quickly when he is held more accountable.

    • Harrison Wind

      I do agree that Mudiay needs to be put in more pick and rolls, like I wrote last week, seems like that’s where he’s going to excel if anywhere throughout his career. The emergence of Nurkic has kind of scrapped them involving Jokic like they did last year though.