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Mar 24, 2024 6:03 pm

Rested stars set to lead Nuggets in matchup with toothless Grizzlies

jokic murray

A year ago this was a matchup of the two top teams in the Western Conference. This season the Memphis Grizzlies vs. the Denver Nuggets doesn’t hold the same meaning.

Memphis (24-47) has gone from contender to the lottery in fewer than 12 months, in large part due to injuries that have decimated the roster. The Grizzlies lost Ja Morant for the season months ago and haven’t been able to replicate their success from last year when they finished with the No. 2 seed in the conference.

They are dealing with more than just Morant’s absence going into Monday night’s matchup at red-hot Denver (50-21). Desmond Bane missed Friday’s win at San Antonio with a sore back, and Brandon Clarke, Luke Kennard, Derrick Rose and Marcus Smart are dealing with ailments.

Memphis still has the reigning Defensive Player of the Year in Jaren Jackson Jr. but it hasn’t been enough. The Grizzlies have struggled throughout the year but did find success against the Spurs when Jackson hit the winner in the final seconds of a 99-97 victory over San Antonio.

“Obviously the results haven’t gone our way for the great majority of the season,” coach Taylor Jenkins said. “But it hasn’t deterred the guys from coming in whether it’s at home or on the road, especially on the road when it’s stacked against you.”

Jackson is having another good year, scoring a career-best 22.6 points a game, but his blocks have dropped from 3.0 to 1.6. He has had to carry more of the load with so many players out, and the task doesn’t get easier against the reigning champions.

The Nuggets have won 14 of 16 since the All-Star break and would be on a nine-game winning streak if Kyrie Irving had not hit a game-winning buzzer beater a week ago.

Denver won 114-111 at Portland on Saturday night despite not having Nikola Jokic (back, hip) or Jamal Murray (ankle) available.

“Any time you can win a game without Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray, especially on the road, you’re always going to take that,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “I’m proud of our group for just fighting through it. Give them credit, they came out of halftime with a head of steam and got us on our heels.”

Jokic and Murray should be available Monday night.

Denver has been strategic about getting rest for its two stars, and playing a Trail Blazers team that started all rookies was a good opportunity.

The Nuggets are battling Oklahoma City, Minnesota and the Los Angeles Clippers for the top seed in the Western Conference. While finishing first is important, Denver has stressed health and playing well down the final stretch more than chasing the best record in the West.

The Nuggets are confident of their ability to win on the road where they have a 22-15 mark with four games remaining. They are nearly unbeatable at home, having gone 28-6, where they play their next five games starting with Monday night.

Denver has won the first two of the four-game season series with Memphis but the teams have not met since Dec. 28 when the Nuggets rolled to a 142-105 home win.

-Field Level Media

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