PREVIEW: Nuggets at Rockets- Feb. 28

Nov 28, 2022; Denver, Colorado, USA; Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) drives at Houston Rockets center Alperen Sengun (28) in the third quarter at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

PREVIEW: Nuggets at Rockets- Feb. 28

The Rockets will try to avoid their 10th straight loss when they welcome the Denver Nuggets to Toyota Center on Tuesday night, their first home game in 20 days. Jae’Sean Tate has been ruled out as the team continues to hold him out of back-to-backs, but Jalen Green was removed from the injury report after he missed the last two games with a groin strain, and Kevin Porter Jr., who has missed the previous 19 games with a left toe injury, has been upgraded to questionable.

Eye on the Nuggets

Record: 43-19 (1st in Western Conference)

Offensive rating (rank): 117.4 (2nd)

Defensive rating (rank): 113.2 (14th)

The Nuggets arrive at Toyota Center having won 5-of-6, including Sunday’s thrilling overtime win over the Los Angeles Clippers. Nikola Jokic, coming off a 40 point, 17 rebound, 10 assist performance in that one, is the favorite to join Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, and Larry Bird as the only players in NBA history to win three consecutive MVP awards. He’s averaging a triple-double for the season at 24.8 points, 11.7 rebounds, and 10 assists per game. Denver is 5.5 games up on Memphis for the top seed in the Western Conference Playoffs, and the Nuggets are in prime position to make the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history.

Matchup to watch: Alperen Sengun vs. Nikola Jokic

It’s been a rough stretch for Sengun, who was benched in the fourth quarter of both Rockets’ losses over the weekend because of his struggles on the defensive end. The Rockets tried to hide him on Matisse Thybulle Sunday in Portland, but NBA teams are always going to find a matchup advantage. Sengun’s biggest issue defensively has come on pick and rolls, but Jokic provides a unique set of challenges because of how much he initiates the Nuggets’ offense, which is second in efficiency. Jokic is averaging 24.5 points on 69% shooting against the Rockets this season, to go with 10.5 rebounds and 10 assists. Sengun admitted after Sunday’s game that his defense hasn’t been good enough, and while some of his issues come from youth and physical limitations, his effort and body language have also been poor.

What I’m watching for

Green only missed two games, but because of the All-Star Break it’s been two weeks since he’s played in a game, so I’m interested to see if the layoff did him any good. For the last couple of months it has felt like he needed a break, both mentally and physically, as the losses have piled up in his second NBA season. Green played his best basketball after the break as a rookie, so the Rockets have hope he can replicate that over the final 22 games of this season, which can help springboard him toward taking a big step forward in 2024.

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