Warriors Nuggets Basketball
Denver Nuggets guard Austin Rivers, front, drives past Golden State Warriors guard Moses Moody in the second half of an NBA basketball game Monday, March 7, 2022, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

WARRIORS VS NUGGETS MARCH 10

Mike Shara

Golden State Warriors at Denver Nuggets
Thursday March 10, 2022
Ball Arena Denver, CO 10 pm ESPN

POINT SPREAD: Golden State -3.5 (BetMGM)
OVER/UNDER: 221.5 (PointsBet)
MONEYLINE: Denver +122 (FanDuel)

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These two contenders will meet for a second time already this week to battle again for playoff positioning in the tightly-contested Western Conference. If the regular season ended today, both would be among the top 6 seeds in the West and thus both would avoid having to appear in the play-in tournament. In their last meeting on Monday night (also in Denver), the Nuggets charged out to a nine-point lead after the first quarter and never trailed again. Will anything change tonight in the rematch? We’ll look into it. (Spoiler alert, yes – things will almost certainly be different tonight.)

GOLDEN STATE
The final score of Monday night’s game (Denver won 131-124) was somewhat misleading. If you just glanced at the final score, you might just assume the Warriors had an off night. The reality is that they all just had the night off.  Monday’s game saw Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Otto Porter, Draymond Green, Andrew Wiggins, Gary Porter II and Andre Iguodala all sitting out either for rest purposes (Denver’s thin air can be a killer for a tired team) or nagging injuries. Their two highest scorers in that game were Jordan Poole and Moses Moody(!), with someone named Chris Chiozza playing 29 minutes (scoring just 4 points to finish with a -14 plus/minus rating). That G League level team Denver faced that night didn’t even resemble the team that currently still sits at #1 in the NBA in overall defensive rating. The following night in San Francisco they waxed the Clippers as Wiggins, Curry and Thompson all returned to regular workloads. The Warriors have been acclimatizing themselves to the thin air since yesterday, waiting for the Nuggets who traveled to Sacramento and back for a game last night. The Warriors will still be without Draymond Green tonight and his importance on defense cannot be overstated. It’s actually quite a simple statement – with Green quarterbacking their defensive schemes and switches the Dubs are a championship level team and without him they are not. Green is the only current NBA player deserving of MVP votes who is not a prolific scorer. They have allowed the shorthanded Nuggets to average 124 points in the last two matchups with Draymond watching in street clothes. With Draymond in the lineup for a game in December Denver scored just 89. 

DENVER
This is the appropriate time of year for pundits and writers to start discussing potential award winners for the NBA’s 2021-22 season. The MVP debate is deservedly getting a lot of air time and ink, with Giannis and Joel Embiid generally seen as two of the three main frontrunners (all big men) for this year’s award. The third co-favorite is last year’s winner and he’s even more deserving this year, despite great seasons from the other two dudes. Nuggets center Nikola Jokic is having a season for the ages. Most people don’t quite recognize how great he’s been because a) he plays in a weird time zone for a franchise with no championship pedigree, b) his team is currently only a # 6 seed and c) he’s not really a highlight-generating machine in the conventional rim-rocking, knockdown shooting sense. The fact that this Nuggets team is in the postseason picture at all despite missing Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. for basically the entire season to this point is all you need to know about how great Jokic has been. He leads the NBA in rebounds, scores more points in the paint than anyone else (and does it the most efficiently) with midrange and deep shooting numbers that also are both elite. He’s a superb screener and Denver is a championship-level defense when he’s on the floor. Oh, yeah – and he’s already the best passing big man in league history. He leads the association in Win Shares and both Defensive Box Plus/Minus and Offensive Box Plus/Minus. Yes, both. By a lot. And he’s doing it on a team that relies on 35 year-old Jeff Green to be a starter every night. Any true basketball fan should be salivating in the hopes that Porter and Murray can return in time to help him make a serious run at a championship, because it would be a deserving culmination of what is revealing itself to be a truly historic individual season.

THE MATCHUP
As you can tell by the summaries above, this game basically boils down to one Joker carrying the husk of his team on his back to face a team full of shooters – none of whom can do anything individually to stop him. The pertinent question here is, do the Warriors have enough of them to overtake Jokic the way a pack of hyenas would team up to take down a lion? My gut tells me yes, tonight the Dubs have enough weapons to beat him. Though the Nuggets are more accustomed to it, playing in thin mile-high air in the second game on back-to-back nights after flying back into town early in the morning is a huge hurdle to overcome for any team – especially one that isn’t very deep (Jokic, Aaron Gordon, Monte Morris and Austin Rivers all played more than 30 minutes last night). Look for a rested Warriors team to win tonight, maybe even running away late.  Denver has won each of their first three meetings, but it’s very difficult to sweep any team over a full season series, especially a good, proud veteran team now sharpening their focus and primed for a sustained playoff run. 

PREDICTION: Golden State 117, Denver 107

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