1. Cleveland largely dominated the first matchup between these two teams. What does Denver need to do differently to avoid a repeat performance?
Marlowe Alter, Right Down Euclid Staff Writer: Ty Lawson had one of the worst shooting nights of his career in Denver’s 98-88 loss back in early December, shooting 1-13 for a measly 4 points and 11 assists. If Lawson plays anywhere near the efficient level he’s played at all season (he’s seventh among all point guards in PER) the Nuggets will most certainly avoid dropping the ball for a second time against a Cavaliers team playing its final game of a five game road trip. The Nuggets have surprisingly been vulnerable at home this season, having gone just 11-8 at the Pepsi Center after posting a league best 38-3 home record a year ago.
Trevor Magnotti, Right Down Euclid Staff Writer: Solid post play will be quite important for the Nuggets if they want to stay in the game this time. Tristan Thompson was an animal in the previous contest, going for 17 points and 21 rebounds in the contest as Kenneth Faried was a nonfactor and J.J. Hickson’s defense was laughable. Anderson Varejao also had 18/13, and since the Bynum trade, the Cavs have had a frontcourt that can match the activity of the Nuggets’ hyperactive unit. If the Nuggets want to win, they have to do a lot better job at rebounding and defending the post.
Mike Catalino, NuggLove.com EIC: The Nuggets have been led all season by Ty Lawson, but he simply didn’t show up for that game. He has been very consistent lately, so I expect him to have a good game. Also, for Denver to have better results this time around Kenneth Faried must step up. He has been a good rebounder for the Nuggets this season, but he has been terrible at scoring. Lastly, the Nuggets bench will need to keep up the good play. Evan Fournier and Nate Robinson will both need to play well for the Nuggets to come out with a win.
2. How will the Denver altitude affect Cleveland, who is on their third road game in four days?
MA: Everyone reacts definitely playing in the Mile High City but certainly the Nuggets have an advantage. Denver has won at least 33 home games in five of the past six seasons. Luckily, the Cavaliers had Thursday off to reenergize after the loss to Portland, but the team’s lack of quality depth may compound the altitude problems. Mike Brown has leaned on his starters for the past two games, and four of the starting five played at least 38 minutes on Wednesday. We’ll see how Brown handles the bench in a game where they will likely need to step up to the plate.
TM: The altitude of Denver is a huge advantage for the Nuggets, and why they routinely have strong home records year after year. When a team goes to Denver, a city seated at exactly one mile above sea level, they have to get used to mountain air, which is a huge hurdle to athletic competition. Air at that altitude has less oxygen than air at sea level. This makes it harder to deliver oxygen to muscles and organs in the body, due to it being less available with each breath. With less oxygen, muscles fatigue more quickly, and the result is a significant loss of endurance and deficit in performance. Now, this can be overcome, of course, by acclimatizing to the different level of oxygen in the air. However, this takes a period of 7-10 days to occur, and even then, won’t have a significant counter-effect unless the team works out in the lower oxygen level over that period. The Cavs are getting none of that. They are instead only getting one day to prepare for the Nuggets, and they just played a back-to-back. This will be their third game in four days, in high altitude, against a team that is used to this oxygen level and plays at a high pace to play on this strength. I don’t see this ending well for the Cavs.
MC: The high altitude is always a disadvantage for an opposing team. It may be more of a mental thing, but it definitely helps the Nuggets. Also, the Cavs will be in some trouble since they have been playing so much lately. It is easy to get tired quickly in Denver and I completely expect Clevland to have some breakdowns regarding that.
3. What will impact the game more: Who controls the pace of the game or who controls the boards?
MA: Both teams are dangerous on the offensive boards especially, but I think the pace of the game will decide this matchup. According to John Hollinger’s stats, Denver plays at the fifth fastest pace in the league while Cleveland is around average. The Cavs could slow down the Nuggets high octane offensive scoring attack by controlling the boards but once Denver has the ball, Lawson is one of the fastest players in the game and he will look to push the ball with uber athletic forward Kenneth Faried filling the lane. The Nuggets employ a 9-man rotation on most nights and everyone runs the floor well, so Cleveland will have to play solid transition defense or they could get run off the court. If this game becomes a track meet, I like Denver’s chances.
TM: I’m going to pick pace because of the reasons laid out in the previous question. If the Nuggets play at a high pace, I don’t think the Cavs will be able to keep up for a full game. It’s that simple.
MC: I’m going to go with pace. The Nuggets are face pace scoring team. They score a lot of points, but also give up a bunch. The Cavs are also a dangerous offensive team, so I think it is fair to say whoever controls the pace will come out with the victory