The NBA All-Star break is finally getting closer, and the Denver Nuggets are ready for their week-long hiatus.
Still, prior to the break, the Nuggets have two more games to go. They also have some clear goals they can accomplish to carry momentum into their time off.
Let’s begin with how the Nuggets are trending.
And then, with Colorado NBA wagering never too far from our thoughts, we’ll look at what lies ahead.
Denver’s short-term skid
After their strong, 11-5 start to 2022, the Nuggets have been sliding as of late.
They are 3-4 in their last seven games, and two of the biggest reasons has been their turnovers and defensive slippage.
The Nuggets have a 15.9 turnover percentage in their last three defeats. That would be the second-worst mark in the league if drawn out over the full season.
Fans betting on the Nuggets at Colorado online sportsbooks surely have taken notice.
The biggest culprit has been none other than Nikola Jokic. The reigning NBA MVP is averaging five giveaways over Denver’s last seven games and a whopping six turnovers in losses.
While turnovers are to be expected when taking Jokic’s ridiculous offensive load into account, Denver’s overall sloppiness is what can be concerning.
Sometimes it’s simply a lack of execution, such as Aaron Gordon forgetting to roll after setting a screen. Or it’s poor communication in transition, leading to the ball being poked away by a trailing pursuer.
Other times, it’s simply bad decision making such as lazy passes or throwing passes that have no chance of reaching their destination.
Other times, it simply comes down to some growing pains.
Learning on the fly
Denver recently acquired Bryn Forbes in a trade. And rookie Bones Hyland has been asked to not only learn the playbook as a shooting guard and small forward, but as a point guard now as well.
Incorporating a new guard in Forbes while trying to help Hyland take the reins as a point guard sometimes creates chaos, leading to giveaways.
No hoops position is tougher to learn than point guard. Hyland is being asked to carry that weight despite his inexperience which inherently leads to miscues.
In losses, Denver’s defense has also been abysmal.
The Nuggets have had a 116.5 defensive rating in their last three defeats. That would be the league’s worst mark over the season.
As to be expected when its opponent is scoring so easily and converting most of its shots, Denver’s rebounding falls off a cliff in losses as well due to a lack of opportunities.
It also surely does not help that the Nuggets are giving the ball away so often.
They will look to rectify those issues in their final two games before the All-Star break.
The final push to the All-Star break
Denver hosts the Orlando Magic on Valentine’s Day night.
The Nuggets then close out the unofficial first half of the season Wednesday night at the Golden State Warriors.
Denver should be able to take down the Magic in Denver without much drama.
But with the game coming prior to the contest against the mighty Warriors — with the All-Star break looming directly after — the matchup against the Magic suddenly becomes more concerning. Will the Nuggets overlook a 13-45 Orlando squad and drop a winnable game at home?
It is far from inconceivable.
On paper, the Magic have even fewer options to try to slow Jokic than the rest of the league. Orlando’s frontcourt has little-to-no chance of limiting the Nuggets’ lone All-Star.
Mo Bamba lacks the requisite mobility and strength to deal with Jokic anywhere on the floor. Wendell Carter might be their best option, but even he’s too small to handle Jokic on his own.
Franz Wagner would put up essentially the same resistance as a light breeze.
The game against the Warriors is much more interesting.
With Draymond Green out, Golden State will be relying on Kevon Looney to defend Jokic.
Looney has had a fantastic season so far. But slowing Jokic one-on-one is not something Looney is capable of.
That means the Warriors likely will double team the Nuggets’ big man.
To counter that defensive game plan, Denver needs everyone else to hit the open shots they are given and attack when the defense is slanted.
The Warriors have been slipping recently as well.
Without Green on the floor, Golden State’s defense has fallen off a cliff. Meanwhile, the Warriors’ offense has not been quite as dominant, even with Klay Thompson back in the lineup.
Denver has a chance to finish its pre-All-Star break portion of the season with a big win if it can execute on the road against the 41-15 Warriors.
Goals for Denver’s 2 games this week
So what can the Nuggets look to accomplish in — or after — their last two games to help them carry positive momentum into the second half of the season?
The first goal is obvious: Just stay healthy.
Denver is still without Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. The Nuggets also was without Monte Morris in last weekend’s games against the Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors as he is in concussion protocol.
Zeke Nnaji also missed Saturday’s contest against the Raptors with tightness in his left hamstring.
Avoiding any further injuries is paramount to the Nuggets’ success leading into the week-long hiatus.
Also, once they get into the break, the rest of the roster can get the rest and recovery time they so badly need. No one who has played regular rotation minutes throughout the season has avoided being fatigued or banged up in some way.
Secondly, getting Hyland up to speed as a point guard — or as close as they can get — can be very important for the rest of the season.
As stated above, it is incredibly difficult to learn how to play point guard at the NBA level.
Defenders are faster, more athletic, longer and smarter than anyone Hyland has faced until now. Getting minutes at point guard these last two games and working through the growing pains before the playoffs get too close is an important goal to pursue for Hyland individually and the Nuggets as a team.