The key match-ups: Perth Wildcats v Denver Nuggets

The Perth Wildcats were crushed by the Utah Jazz in an earlier NBLxNBA game, losing 72-130, and never found their footing. Before heading home to begin final preparations for the NBL season, the ‘Cats will be keen to seek redemption in the Pepsi Centre, against the Denver Nuggets.

Their game against Utah should act as an eye-opening learning experience, and reveal what it truly means to face NBA-level competition. There will certainly be a number of Wildcats looking to correct their mistakes.

Although Perth will still be without big man Angus Brandt, skipper Damian Martin is almost certain to return to the ranks. The team badly missed his presence in the backcourt in Salt Lake City, and his return gives Perth some much-needed stability and defence for the clash with Denver.

The Nuggets are a very young team with exciting potential to grow into a Western Conference contender in the next few years. They have a very athletic and skilled backcourt, with size and speed on the wings, topped off with exceedingly skilled big men. Despite their overall inexperience, the Nuggets are a legitimate wildcard in their conference this season.

Denver will certainly test the resilience of Perth. Here are some possible match-ups to keep an eye on this Saturday.

Murray vs. Martin

Heading into his third NBA season, Jamal Murray continues to maintain his impressive upward trajectory. His instinct to score at all times makes him a big focus of Perth’s defensive efforts.

He is a gifted slasher who can finish at the basket with both hands, allowing him to keep the ball out of reach of rim protectors at all times.

Inside the three-point arc, the 21-year-old’s shot distribution is varied, and he is a threat to pull the trigger, any time, anywhere. Murray is quick to get his feet into launching position, and has the balance to be able to hit moving jump shots. His skill as a scorer extends behind the three-point arc, where he had an accuracy of 37.8% last season.

In isolation Murray has the confidence to take any defender on and is rarely perturbed by a hand in his face. His dangerous and multifaceted offensive game makes him a great candidate to receive coverage from Damian Martin.

Martin is fantastic at pressing his man the entire length of the court. He has tremendous defensive posture and footwork, which allows him to stay in front of quick-footed guards like Murray. Murray's length and rapid strides will make him a challenging assignment for the smaller Martin.

Martin’s importance to Perth goes beyond his defence. His composure as Perth’s floor general, combined with his leadership abilities will help galvanise Perth as a unit. The Wildcats looked like a bunch of separate parts against Utah, hopefully Martin can help steady the ship and bring the team together.

Harris vs. Cotton

Gary Harris completes the Nugget’s young and dangerous backcourt duo. Entering his fifth season in the NBA, Harris is shaping up to be a seriously versatile guard in the league with his capacity to affect the game at both ends.

The 24-year-old is extremely confident launching his jump shot from anywhere he finds himself, both in motion, with his feet set, and off the dribble. Harris is a natural shooter, and has supreme confidence in his ability to make contested shots.

His ability to make shots, as well as drive to the basket, makes him a difficult cover. In the pick and roll he is just as likely to thread a pass, as he is likely to shoot. For the smaller Cotton, Harris will be a tough task defensively.

Against Utah, Cotton allowed a lot of penetration and seemed to be a bit lost on rotations. Cotton and Martin are likely to do a lot of switching on the perimeter and the pair will take turns guarding either Harris or Murray.

Cotton will need to be much snappier on those switches on Saturday. Harris is very quick, and if he is gifted open space caused by a slow switch he will not hesitate to score. It will be vital for Perth that Cotton picks up his defensive focus.

At his best, Cotton is a dynamic offensive player, but against Utah the reigning NBL MVP had a miserable time on offence, hitting 4 of his 16 shot attempts. Cotton acts as the offensive spark that ignites the rest of the team.

Harris is a very capable defensive player, with quick hands and terrific close out speed. He won’t give Cotton anything for free. Perth’s star is going to have to work for it.

Barton vs. White

With Michael Port Jr., Denver’s prized number 14 draft pick, addressing some back problems, Will Barton is the likely to be his replacement. Barton is an athletic and wiry wing player, and gives Denver an extra scoring option with his great isolation play and quick release jump shot.

Given the right situation, Barton is one of the most damaging offensive role players in the NBA. In one-on-one driving situations he uses his nimble feet and shifty fakes to great effect, keeping his defender guessing and hesitant. He has incredible efficiency in isolation scoring scenarios. As a result, he often saves Denver when their offence breaks down, bailing them out with a tough shot.

Terrico White is going to have to lift his defensive game. Even though Barton is not Denver’s go-to player, his ability to create space needs to be controlled. White can’t afford to drop his guard when defending Barton off the ball. If the Denver swingman senses lazy defence he will capitalise.

Barton is also a lover of shooting the ball off screens. White will need to keep him on a tight leash, and work hard to get around screens as quickly as he can to get a hand in Barton’s face.

The slight Denver small forward is great at keeping front position, and is able to contest shots well without fouling. To counter Barton’s strength guarding the perimeter, White should look to employ his scoring ability in pick and roll situations. Barton is slow to guard the ball handler in pick and rolls, and can be lazy switching on opponents.

White did not have a good game against Utah, hitting only 4 of his 17 attempts. Perth should look to get their import going in the pick and roll against Barton, and make the most of a weakness in Denver’s defence.

Millsap vs. Kay

At 33 years of age, and with 12 NBA seasons under his belt, Paul Millsap is Denver’s most experienced player in their starting lineup. Over the years Millsap has developed a well-rounded game. He has a range of weapons at his disposal, and remains a very underrated defender.

Millsap prefers to operate in the post and mid-range area. He has great post fade-away jump shots, which he can launch over both shoulders. In mid-range he has a convincing jab-step he uses to get the defender to commit in the wrong direction, and has a quick release on his mid-range jump shot. He is also a dependable three-point shooter when he sets his feet, and can perform the role of a stretch forward for the Nuggets.

Off the ball he is just as lethal. He is quick to take advantage of a defender not paying attention, and has the strength to finish at the basket under heavy duress.

Nick Kay has the physical traits to defend Millsap. He has a minor height advantage and is only 8kg lighter than the Nugget’s forward. However, Kay’s slightly lighter build may mean he could struggle with Millsap’s bull-like strength. When he starts backing down in the low block it can be like trying to hold back the tide. Kay will have to work hard to deny his match up getting an early deep position.

Kay was yet another Wildcat who had the jitters on offence against Utah, scoring on only 2 of his 10 attempts. Perth’s young gun recruit has the skills to be truly effective on the big stage. He is incredibly crafty under the basket, and moves off the ball really well, probing for openings and back cuts.

Millsap is very versatile defender, and can defend both guards and forwards. Kay will have to be at his best to bounce back from a bad game.

Jokic vs. Jervis

To put it bluntly, Nikola Jokic is just plain scary, and is possibly the most unique big man in the entire NBA. At 213cm, Jokic acts as Denver’s primary playmaker, rebounder and scorer. Still in the very early stages of his professional career, the Serbian has plenty of room for improvement. However, the skills he displays on offence are certain to give Perth big problems.

Jokic pushes the envelope of what it means to be a modern NBA centre even further. He is a very skilled scorer, but what truly sets him apart from the rest of the pack is his playmaking and distribution abilities.

He sometimes appears to have eyes in the back of his head. His supreme court awareness means that if he has a teammate open, he will find them. The big man has one of the best behind the back passes in the business, which he uses to hit otherwise unreachable teammates.Jokic’s eyes are always scanning for the passing option when he’s in the post. Jervis is going to have to pay incredibly closes attention to the passing lanes, and almost defend his assignment as he would defend a guard.

The skilled Denver centre isn’t going to hurt Perth with his ferocious defence and explosive athleticism, the way Rudy Gobert did. From an athletic standpoint, Jervis won’t be out of his depth in quite the same way as he was on Sunday. In spite of his athletic deficiency, the young European Nugget is very crafty with his scoring.

The threat of his passing gives him openings other big men would get, and he exploits them beautifully. Jervis will need to be aware of his opponent’s love of the fake and must resist the temptation to always bite. Otherwise, Jokic will single handedly dissect Perth’s defence.

Catch the Perth Wildcats against the Denver Nuggets on Saturday, October 6 @ 11am AEST.