A lot has changed since the Golden State Warriors knocked the Denver Nuggets out of the Western Conference playoffs last May in a hard-fought, six-game series.
From a top player switching teams to a coaching change on one of the benches, each franchise has undergone major overhauls since the series ended heading into their first meeting this season Monday night.
The biggest change comes courtesy of forward Andre Iguodala, who averaged 18.0 points for the Nuggets in the playoff series a year ago. The series-clinching loss was his last game in a Nuggets uniform, as he signed a four-year, $48 million contract with the Warriors in July.
Iguodala missed 12 games because of a hamstring injury earlier in the season, and has averaged just 3.7 points in the three games since his return on Dec. 17.
The other major difference is on the Nuggets sideline, where Brian Shaw has replaced reigning NBA Coach of the Year George Karl. Shaw has had some success during his first season, but the team enters this game having lost four of five.
The Nuggets (14-12) have a lot of issues that are contributing to their losing ways, but the most important of them has nothing to do with scoring, rebounding and defense, according to their coach.
"Right now, maturity is a big thing with the team," Shaw said following the team's latest setback, a 112-91 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. "We are complaining and we are crying every single time a play doesn't go right for us. We complain to the referees, looking for any excuse as to why something didn't work out for us and it's costing us at the other end. We've talked about punishing criers and not being criers ourselves, but we are actually the ones that are crying."
On the season, Denver has scored 101.2 points and allowed 100.6 points per game. However, over the past three games, the Nuggets scoring has dipped to 94.3 points per game while allowing 106.7.
The Warriors (15-13) have the offense to take advantage of Denver's recent defensive effort issues. Golden State averages 103.3 points and is coming off a 102-83 win against the Los Angeles Lakers on Saturday. Iguodala didn't need to do much, as David Lee, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson combined for 54 points, while Andrew Bogut chipped in 12 and 20 rebounds.
The key for Golden State is its defense. The Warriors limited the Lakers to 32.5 percent shooting and scored 28 points off the 24 turnovers they forced.
"Our offense is going to come and go, but if we show up defensively, force them into spots where we want them, with energy, we'll be fine," Curry said. "If you make them work on every possession, whether they make the shots or not, just as long as they aren't getting easy looks. As long as we stick to our game plan, good things will happen."
The Nuggets have owned this series of late in Denver, going 16-2 in regular-season home games versus the Warriors since December 2003. During those games, the Nuggets have averaged 116.0 points and outscored Golden State by 12.3 points per game.