New York Knicks: Keys To Defeating The Denver Nuggets
The New York Knicks will conclude their five-game Western Conference road trip on Saturday, December 17. What will the keys be to defeating the Denver Nuggets?
Mar 8, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony (7) dribbles the ball against Denver Nuggets forward Darrell Arthur (00) in the third quarter at the Pepsi Center. The Nuggets defeated the Knicks 110-94. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
The New York Knicks have been one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference through 26 games. Though the Knicks haven’t been perfect, they’ve done enough to accumulate a 14-12 record and overachieve approaching the completion of the first third of the season.
On Saturday, December 17, the Knicks will have a chance to close out what’s been a tough five-game road trip with a winning record.
New York is 2-2 through four games of this five-game stretch away from Madison Square Garden. It’s secured victories over the Sacramento Kings and Los Angeles Lakers, but lost to the Phoenix Suns and Golden State Warriors.
The final game of the West Coast trip will be played against the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center in yet another chapter of the Carmelo Anthony saga.
Anthony played for the Nuggets from 2003 to 2011 before he was traded to the Knicks. This will be an opportunity for Anthony to get his groove back and the Knicks to do the same following back-to-back losses.
The question is: what will be the keys to the Knicks going into the Mile High City and picking up their 15th win of the season?
Dec 12, 2016; Dallas, TX, USA; Denver Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari (8) warms up before the game against the Dallas Mavericks at American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
5. Closing Out On Shooters
This could—and probably should—be No. 1 on this list, but this point needs to be made as early as possible. The New York Knicks have done an atrocious job of closing out on 3-point shooters during road games in 2016-17.
If those issues continue to persist, the Knicks will be exploited by the Denver Nuggets and defeated at the Pepsi Center.
New York’s effort has improved in recent games, but there’s still reason to be concerned. The Knicks are about to play the fifth road game in nine days, which may drain them of any remaining energy.
Tired as they may be, the Knicks will need to continue to display the recent resurgence in heart and effort when the Nuggets attempt to space the floor.
The Nuggets have eight players on the roster who are currently making an average of at least 1.0 3-point field goals per game. Denver isn’t necessarily an elite 3-point shooting team, but it has depth and firepower at multiple positions.
That balance has helped Denver rank in the Top 15 in 3-point field goals made, 3-point field goals attempted, and 3-point field goal percentage in 2016-17.
Dec 7, 2016; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks shooting guard Justin Holiday (8) warms up before a game against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
4. The Second Unit
The New York Knicks have received a number of pleasant surprises from the second unit. Kyle O’Quinn is in the midst of the best stretch of his NBA career, Brandon Jennings is finding his form, and the likes of Ron Baker, Willy Hernangomez, and Justin Holiday have all stepped up.
In order for the Knicks to defeat a star-less but deep Denver Nuggets team, the second unit must be up to the task of playing well on both ends.
O’Quinn is averaging 10.4 points, 9.6 rebounds, 4.0 offensive boards, 2.1 assists, and 1.3 blocks in 21.6 minutes over the course of his past eight games. He’s recorded at least 20 points and 14 rebounds in two of those performances.
Matched up against a Nuggets team that has a significant measure of depth along the interior, the Knicks will need O’Quinn to continue to excel.
Hernangomez could play an equally as large role against his brother Juancho and the Nuggets as a rebounder, low-post scorer, and facilitator. From there, it will be a matter of Baker, Jennings, and Holiday solidifying the perimeter on both ends.
Whether or not starting point guard Derrick Rose is healthy and available, the Knicks will need the second unit to rise to the occasion in Denver.
Nov 26, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; New York Knicks guard Brandon Jennings (3) brings the ball down court during the first half of the game against the Charlotte Hornets at the Spectrum Center. Mandatory Credit: Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports
3. Ball Movement
The Denver Nuggets have an uncanny ability to run up the store against opponents of all calibers. The New York Knicks haven’t exactly been a defensive juggernaut in 2016-17, which makes offensive execution a critical point of emphasis.
If New York’s defense isn’t going to step up, then it must move the ball well and convert open shots against a porous Denver defense.
The Nuggets average 106.6 points per game and 103.4 points per 100 possessions. New York actually ranks higher in the latter regard, but Denver is the type of team that can consistently push the pace and produce more than 100 possessions.
Thus, if the Knicks’ defense is unable to hold Denver below 100 points, then its offense will need to overpower and outsmart the opposition.
New York is currently 13-5 when it records at least 20 assists and 1-7 when it fails to reach that mark. It’s 5-1 when it racks up at least 25 assists, which is a number it could conceivably reach if Denver continues to struggle defensively.
Denver is allowing 107.8 points per 100 possessions. In order to make the game as simple as possible, New York should move the ball and win through teamwork.
December 15, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) and New York Knicks center Joakim Noah (13) fight for the rebound during the second half at Oracle Arena. The Warriors defeated the Knicks 103-90. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
The Denver Nuggets may not have an established star down low, but the interior is flush with strong and promising players. Nikola Jokic has star potential, Jusuf Nurkic can be a force on the boards, and Kenneth Faried is called The Manimal for a reason.
On the strength of that depth, the Nuggets are the best rebounding team in the NBA—a sign that the New York Knicks will need to be relentless on the glass.
Denver is pulling down 48.7 points rebounds per game—the highest number in the NBA. Denver is also corralling 13.1 offensive rebounds per game—No. 2 in the Association—and has a league-best rebound differential of +7.3.
New York isn’t too bad itself—No. 3 in the NBA in rebounds per game and offensive rebounds per game—but it has a rebound differential of +0.2 and a tendency to be out-rebounded by physical teams.
New York has been out-rebounded in 12 of 26 games, going 3-9 in those outings. Most recently, it lost the rebounding battle by 18 in a two-point overtime loss to the Phoenix Suns and by eight in a 13-point loss to the Golden State Warriors.
Considering New York is 11-3 when it out-rebounds its opponent, the blueprint for success outlines the need to win the battle on the boards against Denver.
Dec 9, 2016; Sacramento, CA, USA; New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony (7) talks with forward Kristaps Porzingis (6) during the second half at Golden 1 Center. The Knicks defeated the Kings 103-100. Mandatory Credit: Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports
1. Control The Pace
As previously alluded to, the Denver Nuggets have one of the most explosive offensive units in the NBA. Michael Malone is a mastermind in terms of offensive execution and Denver has produced elite numbers without an elite player.
If the New York Knicks aren’t active and aggressive in limiting transition scoring opportunities, the Nuggets will run away with this game—quite literally.
The altitude in Denver is tough to prepare for, which is a reason why the Nuggets’ transition offense has long been effective. The fact that the Knicks are heading to Denver after playing four consecutive road games certainly doesn’t bode well for their chances.
Thus, if the Knicks are going to win this game, then they must be able to control the pace and limit transition scoring opportunities.
It’s an impossible enough task to run up and down the floor in an atmosphere like Denver. To do so after playing five road games since December 6 would be an even more grueling task for the Knicks—one that Jeff Hornacek can’t realistically expect his players to cope with.
The best chance New York has to control the pace and win on the road will be to crash the defensive boards, limit turnovers, and get back on defense after offensive possessions.
With Denver averaging 101.0 possessions per game—Top 10 in the NBA—that will be no easy task.
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