With both the Rockets and Nuggets recently locking up playoff spots within the last week or so, really what this final match-up between the two teams in the regular season comes down to is playoff seeding. There are less than 10 games less for both teams, and due to the fact the Western Conference standings are currently more jammed than rush hour traffic, every game remaining really counts in determining what teams will have home court advantage in the playoffs and for how many rounds. Can the Nuggets finish the year victorious in their season long battle against the Warriors for the number 1 spot in the West, or will they tumble back to the 2/3 spot by season’s end? Will the Rockets bounce back from a mostly poor display in Milwaukee on Tuesday to retake their place as the 3 seed in the West (or higher), or will they finish with a middle tier seed below the likes of the Clippers or the Blazers? Even though this game is just 1/82 on paper, it has vast importance for both teams, and I don’t expect it to be anything less than one of those highly contested, tough, playoff-atmosphere type regular season games that only comes around every once in a while.
When it comes to the Nuggets, the tough thing about stopping them is that the key isn’t just about limiting one or two star players, rather the Nuggets’ success this season has been built upon their stellar team play on both ends of the floor. Even on the nights their lone All-Star, Nikola Jokic, has an off game for them, one of their many other borderline All-Star/remarkable role-player caliber players (e.g. Jamal Murray, Paul Milsap, Gary Harris) are usually able to pick up the slack. Head Coach, Mike Malone, truly has found a way to build a cohesive, efficient, pass happy offense out in Denver, that has propelled him into the Coach of the Year race, created a mini “Golden Stateesque” offense that has the 2nd most team assists in the league (27.6 per game), and most importantly, led them to currently have the Western conference’s 2nd best overall record.
In their previous match-up, the Rockets essentially let the Nuggets offense eat them alive, as Denver shot 45.2% from 3 and a whopping 62.2% from the field. It’s not even as if the Rockets were vastly out rebounded or had a an abhorrent shooting night as they have had in most of their recent loses, but on that night their offense just couldn’t hold weight against Denver’s offensive clinic. While continued emphasis on team rebounding and effort filled defense for a full game are certainly focus points for the Rockets moving forward, for this particular game against one of the league’s premier offenses, it may come down to which team’s offense happens to be clicking more in Toyota Center tonight.
Prediction: Rockets 125- Nuggets 122