The Grizzlies are out in Denver to take on a Nuggets team that appears to have replaced them in the bottom of the Western Conference Playoff picture. Memphis was the seven seed last year, which is the spot that Denver currently occupies. But the Nuggets are just six games away from the three seed, which is closer than the Grizzlies are to the playoffs (seven games behind the Pelicans, even after their win over New Orleans Wednesday).
Memphis and Denver are two teams going in opposite directions at the moment. To talk about that, I asked Adam Mares, the Site Manager of SB Nation’s Denver Nuggets blog Denver Stiffs, to participate in our GBB Five Questions preview. Follow Adam on Twitter here, and be sure to check out the great content over at Denver Stiffs.
Denver is solidly in the playoffs as of now and within striking distance of the 5 seed, largely without Paul Millsap. How are the Nuggets getting it done?
Gary Harris and Jamal Murray have both made a leap this season. Harris’s numbers don’t look much different than last season but he’s expanded his role as a facilitator and creator while maintaining his efficiency. He stepped up and became the team’s go-to scorer when both Millsap and Nikola Jokic went down and kept the team afloat. And of course, Jokic remains one of the most under rated players in the league. It seems like he winds up a positive plus-minus player every single night, regardless of who is on the floor with him.
Nikola Jokic is quite the talent. How does his development connect with the growth of Denver, especially in an NBA that seems to be going away from bigs being vital to team success?
I’m not sure that the league is going away from bigs being vital to team success. I actually think quite the opposite, it’s just that “big” is no longer the sole requirement. Skilled bigs are the new craze and Denver has the most uniquely skilled big in the league. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Trey Lyles is having such a big year. Virtually every player that shares the court with Jokic sees an improvement in their efficiency. However, unlike last season, the Nuggets are able to stay afloat when Jokic goes to the bench thanks to the improvement of Harris and Murray. Denver has three legitimately promising prospects in those three guys who are likely just scratching the surface of their potential.
The Grizzlies have some potentially viable assets that playoff teams may be interested in as the trade deadline approaches. Who interests you most of the Memphis roster, and what would you be willing to part with to get him?
The Nuggets aren’t a great trade partner for any kind of blockbuster deal since Memphis’s two best players - Marc Gasol and Mike Conley - don’t fit Denver’s needs since they are building around Jokic and Murray. Denver is in need of a backup point guard so Mario Chalmers might be the one guy that Denver could target but it’s not like he’s a must-have backup. Denver’s trade assets are also either really good or really bad. For examples, it’s too early to part ways with Juan Hernangomez or Malik Beasley for a player of Mario’s caliber and Kenneth Faried doesn’t make sense if a team decides to tear it down.
Darrell Arthur could be interesting since he has a connection with the Grizzlies and Emmanuel Mudiay could be a solid buy-low reclamation project although my guess is Denver would rather see him go east.
The Nuggets are below .500 in their last 7 games played. What is wrong, if anything?
They have the 5th best Net Rating over their last 10 games with wins at Golden State and Portland but are just 5-5 in that stretch. I think they’ve looked good for the most part, but have dropped a few heart breakers including an OT loss to Jimmy Butler and the Timberwolves. Jokic fell into a mini shooting slump over that stretch but his 22-point triple-double against the Warriors might’ve been the end of that.
How can the Grizzlies keep this game close?
Denver owns the offensive glass and Memphis struggles with defensive rebounding so that will be one key battleground. Denver relies very heavily on Jokic and Harris so keeping those two in check will be key. Lastly, Denver turns it over at the 3rd highest rate in the league and there are times, most recently at Sacramento, where Denver completely takes themselves out of the game because of opponent points off of turnovers.