|Nuggets seek statement win vs. Rockets|
HOUSTON -- Given what the offseason acquisition of veteran forward Paul Millsap meant for the Nuggets and the team's elevated expectations, Denver's win on Monday night in Sacramento ultimately could represent something greater than one victory during the grind of an 82-game slate.
The Nuggets (10-7) were without head coach Michael Malone, who was serving a one-game suspension, and a pair of starters in Wilson Chandler (lower back pain) and Millsap (left wrist sprain). Even so, they ravaged the Kings 114-98 while playing the second game of a back-to-back.
For a team featuring a youthful roster and in search of an identity, wins like these can be crucial.
If Denver can capitalize with another spirited performance on Wednesday night at Toyota Center against the Houston Rockets, the performance could mark the start of something big.
"All 13 guys in that locker room had to contribute (Monday)," said Nuggets assistant coach Wes Unseld Jr., who filled in for Malone. "It's not just the guys that played minutes. There were a number of guys on the bench that were contributing, either in timeouts or when guys were coming off the floor. They were coaching, they were encouraging. That's the type of effort that we need to have."
So much of what makes the Nuggets effective is their depth. Denver features six double-digit scorers with Chandler just shy of that benchmark at 9.4 points per game. As vital as Millsap is to the club's 10th-ranked offense, the Nuggets can absorb his temporary absence by sheer volume of options, with reserves Mason Plumlee and Kenneth Faried capable of plugging gaps in a pinch.
While Malone and Chandler will be back against the Rockets, Denver will be without Millsap for an undetermined stretch of games. What the Nuggets proved is their firepower is sufficient to offset minor emergencies so long as the energy is there to supplement their ample depth.
With guard Chris Paul back from his month-long injury hiatus, the Rockets (13-4) are re-forging their own identity, particularly on the defensive end. Although there remains some concern over how Paul and James Harden will blend in the backcourt on offense, Houston anticipated its greatest strides would come on the defensive end with the addition of Paul.
For a month, Houston had to carve out that new identity with Paul watching from the bench, leaning on defensive-minded forwards P.J. Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute, both new to the team. The Rockets enjoyed marked defensive progress during their six-game winning streak with a 99.6 defensive rating before coming undone last week in a home loss against the Toronto Raptors.
In their first game with Paul, the Rockets were a defensive sieve, but it didn't matter as their offense shellacked the Phoenix Suns on Thursday. Two nights later in Memphis, the Rockets displayed the principles that have resulted in a top-10 defense that Paul should only embellish.
"Communication. That's it," Tucker said. "Number one thing on our defense is communication. If we don't play good defense, we are not communicating, we're not talking. And that's probably with any defense, but with us, it's a big thing. That's what changes a lot of things for us because knowing coverage and getting into coverage and executing it all goes hand in hand."