The Houston Rockets hit the road to face the Denver Nuggets on Monday, November 28. The Rockets and Nuggets are both riding two-game win streaks. The Rockets beat the Atlanta Hawks and Oklahoma City Thunder, and the Nuggets bested the Clippers and Thunder.
While both teams are in the midst of win streaks, their seasons could not have gone any different. The Nuggets are 12-7 and second in the Western Conference, and the Rockets are 5-14, good for last place in the West. No matter the outcome, one win streak is coming to an end, and another is being extended.
Are the Denver Nuggets for real?
The Nuggets, despite their record, do not have the most pristine underlying metrics. Their +0.7 net rating projects a .500 team and not a serious threat to claim home court throughout the Western Conference playoffs. Are the Nuggets riding their luck and poised for a crash? Or are they better than what their metrics suggest? The answer is a little bit of both.
Much like the Golden State Warriors, the Denver Nuggets have an incredible split between their bench and starters. Each member of their preferred starting five, Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Michael Porter Jr., owns a significantly positive net rating, while every member of their bench has a comically high negative net rating. The lone exception is Bruce Brown at -3.3, but that’s because he has started seven of his 19 games.
The Nuggets’ go-to starters have been absolutely dominant when on the court together. In 172 minutes, they have a +17.94 net rating, a 122.9 offensive rating, and a 104.9 defensive rating. Those would be the best offensive and defensive ratings in the league by a significant margin. However, when all five are on the bench, the wheels fall off, explode, and destroy a children’s hospital as they have limped to a -32.4 net rating, an 87.8 offensive rating, and a 120.2 defensive rating in 113 minutes.
So, are the Nuggets for real? Very likely, but the divergence in quality between their starters and bench will mute their net rating. With their best players on the court, the Nuggets can dominate anyone, but their bench will give most of those gains back. The key for the Rockets will be weathering the Biblical storm that is the Nuggets’ starting unit and then trouncing their sad sack bench. These are the stats to know, player to watch, and X-factor for the game.