The Denver Nuggets hope to capitalize on an advantage given them by the NBA schedule-maker when they host the travel-weary Golden State Warriors on Thursday night.
While the Nuggets had a night off and perhaps were watching their next opponent on television from 1,000 miles away, the Warriors not only were enduring the opener of a back-to-back on Wednesday night in Minneapolis, but they had to work overtime in a 119-114 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr has rested as many as four veterans on the second night of back-to-backs this season, including sitting Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green in the back half of their most recent two-games-in-two-days sequence on Jan. 20 in Cleveland.
Andrew Wiggins also missed that Jan. 20 game due to an illness, leaving Jordan Poole, Kevon Looney and a cast of role players to go up against the Cavaliers on the final night of a five-game trip.
Golden State stunned the Eastern Conference contender on that occasion, getting 32 points from Poole, 17 rebounds from Looney, and a combined 34 points from two-way players Anthony Lamb and Ty Jerome in a 120-114 victory.
Kerr had played his veterans on the second night of a back-to-back earlier on the trip, and the result was a 127-118 win at Washington with Curry scoring 41 and Poole 32.
Those road back-to-backs were the Warriors’ sixth and seventh of the season. On the first five occasions, short-handed Golden State teams had gone 0-5, losing by a total of 104 points.
With a chance to go 2-0 to start their three-game trip and perhaps soften the blow of a rough night in Denver with some (or all) of their veterans sitting, the Warriors blew a 14-point, fourth-quarter lead on Wednesday and, according to Kerr, “got what we deserved.”
“I thought we had control of the game,” he said. “I thought we just kinda gift-wrapped it. They took advantage of our mistakes and our lack of execution. We missed box-outs, we threw the ball away, we took really difficult shots. Everything we had done up to that point to have control of the game, we stopped doing.”
Kerr made no announcement after the game as to who would play and who wouldn’t in Denver. It will be a game-day decision.
The Warriors had all hands on deck when they were beaten 128-123 by the Nuggets in San Francisco in the first week of the season. Nikola Jokic had 26 points for Denver, which elected to give Jamal Murray the night off in that one.
Jokic’s team-high point total came as part of a triple-double with 12 rebounds and 10 assists. It was his first of NBA-leading 16 this season and his fifth all-time against Golden State.
The two-time Most Valuable Player’s most recent triple-double was one of his most impressive of the season: 26 points, 18 rebounds and 15 assists in a 122-113 home win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday.
He became just the fifth player in NBA history to have a 26/18/15 triple-double, joining Oscar Robertson (three times), Wilt Chamberlain (three times), Larry Bird and Russell Westbrook.
Jokic will take the floor Thursday averaging a triple-double — 25.1 points, 11.1 rebounds and 10.0 assists. Only Robertson and Westbrook have ever finished an NBA season averaging a triple-double.
“It’s nice, of course. It’s not something I’m striving to do,” Jokic said. “I’m happy as long as we are winning the game and the team and players are happy around me.”