Depending on injuries and COVID, the Denver Nuggets have three winnable games in the next week.
They will battle with the Thunder in Oklahoma City on Dec. 22 before returning to Denver to take on the Charlotte Hornets on the second night of a back-to-back. The toughest win will be the Hornets on the second night.
Then the Nuggets get two days off before taking on Los Angeles Clippers in the City of Angels.
Nuggets odds at Colorado sportsbooks
Keeping up with Jokic
The Thunder have no one to defend Nikola Jokic. Not only are all of their center options undersized, but they have no chance of keeping up with Jokic in any facet.
Derrick Favors could be the best bet. The other options are Mike Muscala, Aleksej Pokusevski or Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, none of whom have even the slightest chance one-on-one against Jokic.
Look to take the over on his points, rebounds or assists because Jokic will likely force the Thunder to send double teams at him far more often than they should, which also helps the validity of taking the Nuggets against the spread, the over and the moneyline.
When Denver is at their best is when Jokic can fully act as a conductor of the Nuggets offense, and there is no reason for the reigning MVP to play exactly that way.
Denver’s battle with the Hornets is much more difficult to predict.
Will they be able to slow LaMelo Ball on the perimeter or will he be able to break down Denver’s defense as he has done to so many other teams bending their defense to his will? Denver will likely rely on Barton to cover Ball while incorporating multiple different defensive looks to keep him on his toes.
Eyes on Gordon
Still, the best matchup of the game will be Aaron Gordon going up against Miles Bridges.
Can Gordon slow Bridges in transition? Can Bridges handle the increasingly dangerous scoring ability going to the rim by Gordon?
They are both hyper-athletic wings who play multiple positions, so pinning them against one another should make for great basketball, but it will be hard for bettors to find value in this matchup.
Denver will then take on the middling Clippers in Los Angeles on two days’ rest before heading home for Christmas. For the Nuggets to come away with a victory, they will need a strong Jokic performance. More importantly, stellar defense from Gordon on PaulGeorge.
Taking away George’s scoring from the Clippers is a death sentence for them because they have no other go-to scorers that should scare the Nuggets. It will take a team effort, but Gordon will have to lead that charge and fight over screens all night long as Los Angeles attempts to get their start player open.
The Nuggets should go at least 2-1 over their next three games before finishing out 2021 by taking on the 25-6 Golden State Warriors twice in a row on Dec. 28 and 30.
While winning either of those games would be an unexpected outcome, winning two of three against the Thunder, Hornets and Clippers before even getting to those two games against Golden State gives Denver a cushion for the possible two-game losing streak they would carry into 2022.
COVID and the Nuggets
As of Monday, 113 NBA players have entered the league’s health-and-safety protocols this season.
More than 100 players either tested positive for COVID-19, had an inconclusive test or were deemed at-risk via contact tracing — and 97 of them happened just in December, according to Baxter Holmes of ESPN.
The Denver Nuggets continue to deal with COVID-19 issues. In the past month:
- Forward Bol Bol is isolating for the second time.
- Austin Rivers was out for the first eight games of December for testing positive.
- Bones Hyland missed games because of safety protocols. He missed the first three games in December after one game back from a right ankle sprain.
NBA efforts to navigate COVID resurgence
Major league basketball is in shambles as player after NBA player enters protocols.
The NBA sent out a memo that outlines an increase in testing vaccinated players and Tier 1 personnel as of Dec. 26. The NBA will require players and staff to wear masks for nearly all activities outside of basketball games.
COVID case numbers will likely continue to rise through the holiday season despite these efforts.
According to Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today:
“The league is not considering an imminent pause, though it would be foolish to think the NBA hasn’t discussed a pause as a contingency in a worst-case scenario; it’s just not on the table now.”
The NBA is unpredictable on a night-to-night basis. Stay tuned to PlayColorado.com for the latest on the Denver Nuggets.