Since the calendar turned to February, the Denver Nuggets have been on an absolute tear. With wins over OKC, Golden State, and San Antonio (twice) on their home court, the quality of the streak is not in doubt. Despite struggles on the road, they’ve taken care of business during this stretch and are an astounding 7-1 in their last eight games.
The one loss? A 130-104 drubbing by the Houston Rockets.
Nikola Jokic in particular has been a man possessed. The early favorite for Western Conference player of the month, Jokic has four triple-doubles this month and is averaging 22 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 assists in February. He hasn’t scored fewer than 14 points, assisted on fewer than five baskets, or grabbed fewer than seven boards during this stretch. In fact, all three of those lowest stats came in the same game.
That was against Houston.
A couple of days ago, we touched on how Houston is a tough matchup for the Minnesota Timberwolves. Even with a healthy Jimmy Butler, the Wolves need to play almost a perfect game since their style really hurts them against the Rockets. Denver, on the other hand, should like playing Houston’s style. Houston plays at a nominally quicker pace (100.3 vs. 98.8), but Denver likes to shoot threes just like Houston and has the athletic wings that generally give the Rockets some trouble.
True, the Nuggets aren’t at full strength as they are still awaiting the return of Paul Millsap, who should be returning in the next few weeks. Even if Denver doesn’t go on a long streak with him to take a top 4 seed, this is a squad that plenty of West teams would like to avoid in Round 1 (or 2).
A lot has been made about how difficult Houston’s schedule is after the All-Star break. The Minnesota game started a stretch of eight straight against playoff teams/teams gunning for the playoffs. Houston doesn’t get much of a reprieve until late March, only for April to start with another tough group of games. Houston passed their first test (get well soon, Jimmy!), but now they have to take their show on the road.
On the availability front, Eric Gordon is listed as questionable, per Jonathan Feigen. Everyone else should be available once again.
Tip-off is at 7pm CT