As is being reported by Benjamin Hochman of the Denver Post, the Nuggets will be extremely depleted on Monday against the Houston Rockets. Three starters including Nene, Afflalo and Mozgov will all be out in addition to Corey Brewer due to the devastating loss of his father. While Mozgov and Brewer will almost certainly miss multiple games, there’s no definitive word out on how long Nene or Afflalo will be sidelined. Starting in place of Mozgov will be Kosta Koufos, who’s coming off a career game against the Blazers in which he netted career highs in minutes played and rebound in route to a 16-point, 12-board double-double. In place of Afflalo will be Julyan Stone and in place of Nene, none other than the “Manimal” himself, Kenneth Faried.
Now, while die-hard fans — like those who frequent this blog — may be thrilled at the concept of Faried and Stone playing big minutes, it’s important to keep in mind just how paramount this upcoming home stand will be for the Nuggets. After playing four of the next five games at home, Denver will once again hit the road for a Western Conference swing very similar to the one the Nuggets just went 1-4 on. In addition to facing the Thunder, Mavericks, Grizzlies and Clippers at their home arenas, the Nuggets will also travel to Indiana to take on the Pacers who currently have the fifth best record in the entire league; therefore, taking care of business at home will be imperative, and it starts tonight.
Houston is a team the Nuggets cannot afford to overlook. Although the Rockets sit on a moderate 13-11 record, they’re also one of the hottest teams in the entire league having won 11 of their last 16 games. They also have a handful of very underrated players capable of inflicting unforeseen damage like perhaps no other team in the NBA. Starting with 6-11 center and former member of Roundball Mining Company’s “Players the Nuggets should consider signing” list, Samuel Dalembert, in addition to the hard-working power forward, Luis Scola, the Rockets will trot out a front court with lightyears more experience than than Nuggets. Dalembert has already recorded 10 or more rebounds on nine different occasions this year, including four occasions in which he hauled in at least 15 boards. He also ranks ninth in the NBA in both offensive rebounds and total rebounds per 48 minutes as well as sixth in blocks — three categories the Nuggets are sorely lacking in at the moment. Scola on the other hand, while having somewhat of a down year numerically, still has the ability to fill it up and has always given the Nuggets problems with his hustle and refined post game.
Although their front line is certainly nothing to scoff at, the real test for the Nuggets on Monday will come from Houston’s back court. Kevin Martin and Kyle Lowry combine to form one of the best back-court tandems in the league and are both legitimate backup candidates for the All Star team. While Martin ranks third in points per game and PER among all shooting guards, Lowry ranks first among players at his position in rebounds, fourth in steals, fifth in 3-pointers made and eighth in assists per game. Julyan Stone and Ty Lawson must hold these two in check in order to give Denver a fighting chance at winning the game. Seeing how both Stone and Faried play against starting-caliber NBA players on Monday should go a long way in understanding where these players stand at the moment, as it will be the first time all year that both players will have logged heavy minutes together outside of garbage time.