Feb 28, 2023; Houston, Texas, USA; Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) defends against Houston Rockets center Alperen Sengun (28) during the first quarter at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
PREVIEW: Nuggets at Rockets- April 4
The Rockets will close out the home portion of their schedule when they host the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday night. The Rockets have improved on their 11-30 record at Toyota Center from last season, but only one team has fewer than their 13 wins at home in 2022-23.
Eye on the Nuggets
Record: 52-26 (1st in Western Conference)
Offensive rating (rank): 117.1 (T-3rd)
Defensive rating (rank): 113.4 (14th)
The Nuggets recovered from back-to-back losses to the Pelicans and Suns to beat the Warriors on Sunday and will clinch the top seed in the Western Conference Playoffs with a win over the Rockets on Tuesday.
Matchup to watch: Alperen Sengun vs. Nikola Jokic
Jokic versus Baby Jokic will always be the matchup to watch whenever these two teams meet, though the older Jokic has completely dominated the three previous games. The two-time defending MVP is averaging a triple-double against the Rockets this season, and while he’s scoring only 21 points per game, he’s shooting close to 68% from the field and 60% from behind the 3-point line. Sengun has been ok in three games against the Nuggets this season, putting up 14.3 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 4 assists, but he hasn’t impacted the game nearly as much as the player he idolizes. Sengun’s numbers are very similar to what Jokic put up in his second NBA. It is still to be determined if Sengun has the same ceiling, but the talent is there.
What I’m watching for
What do the Rockets do behind Sengun at center? Usman Garuba has played less than eight minutes combined the last two games, seeing the floor for a mere 2:31 against the Lakers on Sunday. It’s hard to think the Rockets would elect to play small against Jokic, so if Garuba’s role continues to be minimized could we see Boban Marjanovic get meaningful playing time? He would have a size advantage against Jokic, but he can’t move anymore, and it’s hard to imagine the zone defense the Rockets play when he’s on the floor could be effective against a center who can pick it apart whenever he wants.