Preview: Denver Nuggets host the Cleveland Cavaliers

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@EricSpyroNBA

There’s no better way to kick off a week than with some hoops, and the Denver Nuggets will do just that when they host the Cleveland Cavaliers at Ball Arena Monday night.

Following two wins in the opening week of the 2021-22 season, Denver opens up a week with four games split into two back-to-back sets. The Nuggets will travel to Salt Lake City to take on the Utah Jazz Tuesday.

Denver (2-0) narrowly defeated the San Antonio Spurs in its home opener Friday night, fueled by a dominant performance from reigning MVP Nikola Jokić. However, the Nuggets will need to be sharper this week with a couple of games against 2021 playoff teams on the schedule.

Cleveland (1-2) is coming off its first win of the season Saturday, an impressive victory over the Atlanta Hawks. The Cavaliers have had success on the offensive end throughout the opening week of the season but struggled on the defensive end of the floor.

Let’s take a look at some keys to Monday’s matchup.

INJURY REPORT:

JAMAL MURRAY – LEFT KNEE INJURY RECOVERY. OUT.

VLATKO ČANČAR – LEFT HIP STRAIN. OUT.

TUNE-IN: 7 p.m. MT, Altitude TV and 92.5FM

Can Porter Jr. find a rhythm?

Through his first two games of the season, Michael Porter Jr. would surely have preferred to score a combined 22 points. The 23-year-old forward impressed in the opening night game against the Suns with a career-high five assists but followed it up with a seven-point, one-rebound outing against San Antonio.

The focus will continue to be on Porter Jr. throughout the beginning of the season as he navigates a larger offensive role while Jamal Murray remains out. Against Cleveland, Porter Jr. will likely matchup against Lauri Markkanen, who is slotted in the starting lineup at the small forward position (The Cavaliers will likely adjust matchups at times to put Isaac Okoro and Evan Mobley on Porter Jr. as well).

Look for Denver to try and get Porter Jr. going early Monday night against a favorable matchup.

Taking care of the ball

One major takeaway from Denver’s first two games has been the struggle to value each possession.

Through the opening games of the season, the Nuggets rank 27th in turnover percentage, coughing it up on nearly 20 percent of their possessions. This has allowed opponents to get out in transition and generate easy offense.

Denver’s halfcourt defense has been elite through the first two games, and if the Nuggets can limit their turnovers, they can avoid putting pressure on their transition defense. Against a Cleveland team that ranks 13th in offensive rating as of Sunday, Denver must avoid mistakes that will lead to easy points for the Cavaliers.

Rim protection will be tested

Although it’s very early in the season, the results have been very promising for the Nuggets on the defensive end, especially when it comes to defending the rim.

The Nuggets rank fourth in the league in opponent frequency of shot attempts coming from within four feet of the basket (27.5 percent), and teams have connected on 62.8 percent of those shots, which is right at the league average conversion rate. For a Nuggets squad that ranked near the bottom of the league in opponent field-goal percentage at the rim last season, it has been a welcomed improvement to begin the season.

However, that rim protection will be tested against the Cavaliers, who attempt 34.2 percent of their total shot attempts at the rim (ninth-highest frequency in the league) and have converted on 74.7 percent of those shots, the fourth-highest percentage in the league.

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