The Denver Nuggets are riding a season-long six-game winning streak into their second matchup with the Sacramento Kings this season.
While Nuggets fans are no stranger to the team’s success dating back to last year’s 54-win campaign, how Denver (13-3) has won games has been quite the surprise this season. Heading into Friday’s slate of games, the Nuggets own the top-ranked defensive rating in the league, compared to just the 19th-ranked offensive rating.
Denver’s defensive success has been fueled by their defense on shots outside of the paint and their elite rebounding. The Nuggets rank first in both opponent shooting percentage from the mid-range and beyond the arc. Denver also ranks sixth in opponent offensive rebound percentage, which highlights the team’s ability to finish defensive possessions with a rebound, thus preventing many second-chance opportunities.
The Kings (7-10) have rebounded from their 0-5 start earlier this season, despite missing De’Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley for extended periods this month. Sacramento has had impressive victories over teams such as the Utah Jazz, Boston Celtics and Phoenix Suns this month, though they are still looking to find their edge on both ends of the floor.
Sacramento ranks in the bottom third of the league in both offensive and defensive rating this season and unlike last season, the Kings rank 29th in pace of play (Denver ranks last in pace of play, so expect a slower game that focuses on executing in the halfcourt).
Here are three keys to Saturday’s game:
Control the battle on the boards
The Kings are not a good rebounding team. Although Sacramento is near league average on the offensive glass, they struggle in finishing defensive possessions with a rebound, as they rank 23rd in opponent offensive rebound percentage.
Conversely, Denver ranks fourth in offensive rebound percentage, which should present quite the mismatch on Saturday. The Nuggets also thrive on the defensive glass, as they’ve limited opponents to a 23.7 percent offensive rebound rate so far this season. If the Nuggets can control the boards on both ends of the floor, it will go a long way in helping them secure their seventh-consecutive victory.
Defending the 3-point line
Sacramento’s offense relies heavily on 3-pointers. The Kings rank sixth in the frequency of 3-pointers attempted, while they rank eleventh in 3-point percentage at 36.7 percent. The two main shooters are Buddy Hield and Bogdan Bogdanovic, who have been two of the premier marksmen in the entire league this season.
“Buddy Hield is playing at a high level right now,” Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said at Friday’s practice. “Both Hield in the starting lineup and Bogdanovic off the bench are a big part of that (Sacramento’s resurgence). They’re going to test your defense. It will be a challenge tomorrow but I think our guys will be up for it.”
Hield is attempting 10.1 threes per game and has shot 38.6 percent from deep this year, while Bogdanovic has connected on 39.3 percent of his 7.3 3-point attempts this season. This presents an interesting matchup between the teams because as mentioned earlier, Denver has been the best team in defending the 3-point line this season. Something will have to give on Saturday, which will either fuel a strong offensive performance for Sacramento or play right into the hands of Denver’s elite defense.
Taking care of business on the road
Winning on the road is no easy feat in the NBA. Due to scheduling constraints, travel arrangements and the spread of talent throughout the league, it often comes down to the truly elite teams that win the majority of their road games. Malone certainly understands that, and he has pushed his team to be a more formidable force away from Pepsi Center in recent seasons.
Denver went 20-21 on the road last season, but Malone continues to raise his expectations as the Nuggets look to advance further in the playoffs this season. With a win in Sacramento, the Nuggets would move to 6-1 on the road this season, which would be one of the three best road records in the league. The old adage is that defense travels, so the Nuggets’ improvement on that end should fuel an even better performance away from home this season.
Projected starters: Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Will Barton III, Paul Millsap, Nikola Jokić
Saturday’s game will tip-off at 3 p.m. MT and will air on Altitude TV (Radio: KKSE 950AM).