Nuggets hope visit from roster-thin Rockets leads to first win

The Houston Rockets are battling a coronavirus crisis, while the Denver Nuggets are battling a crisis of confidence.

Neither team is at its best early in the season, but something will give when they meet Monday night.

The Rockets visit Denver with four players in quarantine after a tumultuous opening week. Trade rumors surrounding star James Harden -- one including the Nuggets that was quickly quashed -- and his violation of league COVID-19 rules and regulations have made it a tough start for new coach Stephen Silas.

Houston had its opener postponed before nearly beating the Portland Trail Blazers on the road in their first game Saturday night. Harden scored 44 points in the overtime loss and wasn't surprised at his performance even with the off-the-court issues.

"I didn't surprise myself at all," Harden said after the game. "I know what I'm capable of."

The Rockets will need more of that from Harden without key rotation players. John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Eric Gordon and Mason Jones are being quarantined until Wednesday because the four were considered close contacts under the NBA's COVID-19 protocols.

Houston got a big lift Saturday from Christian Wood, who finished with 31 points and 13 rebounds in 44 minutes, and rookie Jae'Sean Tate, who scored 13 points off the bench.

"He made me look good tonight," Harden said of Wood.

The Nuggets haven't looked good in their two home losses to open the season. On Wednesday they rallied against Sacramento but mistakes in the final seconds of overtime cost them the game. A slow first half against the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday ended in another loss.

Denver is fighting expectations after its run to the Western Conference finals to finish off the 2019-20 season, despite having significant roster turnover. One of the biggest additions, JaMychal Green, has yet to play because of a left calf strain.

"This is a new season, a new team and new challenges. The bottom line is, I guess my job as a coach is to find a group that is going to compete and give ourselves a chance," coach Michael Malone said. "We are 0-2, so hopefully we will find a way against Houston to come out from the get-go and sustain it. That was my big message to our group. You can't win in this league playing three quarters."

The Nuggets have received two strong outings from Nikola Jokic. He had a triple-double in the loss to the Kings and was a rebound shy of another on Christmas night.

Another ray of hope is Jamal Murray found his stroke in the second half against the Clippers. He fouled out after scoring just nine points Wednesday but had 19 of his 23 points in the second half, with 13 coming in the fourth quarter, when Denver trimmed a 24-point deficit to 11 on Friday.

Despite the 0-2 start the Nuggets aren't panicking.

"It's very early, man," Monte Morris said. "Short training camp. I'm not trying to make excuses or nothing. We're still trying to figure it out. ... It's not panic mode."

--Field Level Media