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Denver Nuggets Defense Falters Against Celtics

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Denver Nuggets start the road swing strong at 3-0, then run off a cliff in New England. After a thrilling 122-119 comeback win against Indiana on Wednesday, the Nuggets get out-rebounded and out-hustled defensively by Boston losing 131-112.

The last time we spoke here the Denver Nuggets were pwned by Portland. But, if you listen to me and Santiago on the Nug Life Podcast and followed my picks you should be sitting pretty this week. I advised that the Nuggets would start 3-0 and then run out of steam on the due east swing by the time they reached Boston. I of course was hoping to be wrong, but a 3-1 start and no worse than a 4-2 week long road trip is nothing to snuff at. These are humans, after all, their energy is finite, especially with no comforts of home.

Jaylen Brown of the Boston Celtics set the tone early hitting his first 10 shots before finally bricking a lay-up. For all the credit you want to give Boston for playing a solid game, you can’t help but blame lackluster effort on the glass by the Denver Nuggets within the same breath. Nothing gives this sentiment life like the video below:

Denver Nuggets vs Boston Celtics Highlight

That is not NBA basketball, that is Rec-League at best. The Nuggets got away with some bad quarters against inferior rosters of San Antonio and Indiana. You can’t have those extended lapses against teams like Boston and expect to win. Compounding the issue for the Nuggets was the fact they started so poorly falling to a 33-25 deficit by the end of the first. The Celtics started the game with a 61.9% chance of winning, which was the lowest that probability ever fell. The Nuggets allowed Brown and Co. to deliver no less than 31 points in every quarter.

The Celtics had three players exceed 20 points in the aforementioned Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Al Horford. Grant Williams’ 13 made it 4-out-of-5 Boston starters with double-digit points. Former CU Buff Derrick White and Payton Pritchard had 10 and 11 off the bench respectively. The Nuggets’ offense from the early portion of the road trip was only seen in spurts, not nearly good enough against the defending Eastern Conference Champions.

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For those that have been calling to see more Joker, you may have to argue we have seen too much over the last two contests. He has played almost the entire second half of both with four fouls. Jokic still managed to be the leading scorer in both games. He had 24 against the Pacers and 29 on Friday night. Unlike in Indiana where Nikola Jokic had five teammates join him with at least 15 points and a double-double by Aaron Gordon. On Friday night in Boston, he only had 3. Though Jamal Murray (14 pts/10 assists) and Bruce Brown (16 pts/10 rebs.) added double-doubles. The most telling stat though is 46-38, that’s how the Nuggets were out-rebounded by Boston. The Celtics never quit and the Nuggets never started.

It is only game 12 of 82, you can’t reasonably expect the energy level to be consistent over that many minutes on the floor. But the number one telling stat of the early season for Denver has been rebounding. When the Nuggets win the battle on the glass they are 7-0, they are 1-4 when they don’t. Although that seems pretty cut and dry, there is some nuance here to consider but is a storyline worth watching. We will see if a day off Saturday can re-energize this Denver Nuggets squad for another tough test in Chi-To

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What’s Next:

@ Chicago Bulls, Sunday, November 13 at 6:00 PM MST/8:00 PM EST

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Portland Pwns Denver Nuggets

Denver Nuggets start hot, Anfernee Simons dominates third, and Portland pwns the Nuggets on Monday night.

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If you turned the tv off after the first, you would have to imagine Denver dominated Portland. The Denver Nuggets jumped out to as much as a 13-point lead in the opening quarter, before settling on a 31-23 lead to end it. Air Gordon was on-time for all take-offs, MPJ was stroking from a distance, and Joker was doing vintage facilitating circus acts. Then the wheels fell off.

In the 2nd quarter, you had a taste of what was to come as the Trailblazers shaved 2 off the lead by winning the quarter scoring 32 to Denver’s 30. The Nuggets still had a lead though and were competitive. No way a Blazers squad on the second leg of a back-to-back could out-work the boys from a mile high, right?

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Anfernee Simons entered the locker room with 7 of the Blazers 55 points, he came out in the third and showed Blazers wasn’t just the nickname of his club. The fourth-year Shooting Guard went unconscious in the 3rd-quarter. Simons had 22-points, and went 6-7 from beyond the 3-point arc in the third alone. He would finish the night with 29 pts/3 reb/5 ast, second only to Damian Lillard in scoring who had 31. Denver’s defense can’t hope to contend for championships if they can’t stem the tide of a 4th-year player that averaged 10 points per game on 40% shooting in his career coming into Monday night. But hats off to the TrailBlazers for riding the wave all the way to the shoreline.

Look at this shooting chart for Simons in that third frame courtesy of Yahoo! Sports.

Anfernee Simons 3rd-Quarter Shot Chart vs Denver Nuggets Monday Oct. 24, 2022 via Yahoo! Sports

The Denver Nuggets has no answer for Simons and the Blazers offense until it was too late as Portland would take the lead 99-86 with a 44-point third. Denver could only muster 25 points in the quarter as a team. As I told you all on the latest Nug Life Podcast, the Nuggets cannot win with Aaron Gordon as the leading scorer on a consistent basis. Four games into the season, two of them Gordon has lead the Nuggets in scoring, both are losses. Small sample yes, but worth watching for vindication. We love AG here at TAI42, but he is a supporting actor, not the lead. Michael Porter Jr. was solid again with 18 points, and Bones was busy with 15 of his own. No other Nugget reached double-digits. Yes that means Joker didn’t either.

After the 78th triple-double of his career against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Nikola Jokic managed a 9/9/9 line. Your back-to-back MVP cannot disappear like that, regardless of foul trouble. The Nuggets need to stop pleading to the refs for call, albeit deservedly so, and play through the whistle. The lack of hustle has been unacceptable in their two losses, and at times in their two wins. The defensive effort will be key going forward. Can they rebound at home against a poor-shooting Lakers squad? That seems like their best shot.

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What’s Next?

vs L.A. Lakers Wed Oct. 26 @ 8:00 PM MST

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Denver Nuggets Lose More Than Game in Salt Lake City

The Denver Nuggets had just gotten manhandled by the Cleveland Cavaliers at home. You knew this team wouldn’t lie down and roll over. Through 3.5 quarters they didn’t. Even after losing their MVP.

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The Denver Nuggets had it stacked against them in Utah. No Jamal Murray, 2nd leg of a back-to-back, Utah coming off 4 days rest, and losing Nikola Jokic to a knee contusion less than halfway through the contest. Aaron Gordon going for 16 in the first half, and Will Barton dropping 16 of his 21 in the 3rd kept this Nuggets squad in it until the end. This game was 96-95 at 9:08 left in the 4th. Thankfully it seems Joker avoided serious injury.

This is where things went left for the Denver Nuggets. After the 9:08 mark in the 4th, Utah went on a 26-15 run to close the game and secure a 122-110 division win. When you look at the box score you get an idea of just how good this Nuggets squad was at scoring, all 5 starters in double digits, all but one with at least 19 points, 3 with at least 20. Problems came on the defensive end where Aaron Gordon drew 5 fouls, MPJ drew 3, and they gave up more than 100 points for the first time.

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Obviously, Gordon’s foul trouble curbed his defensive efficiency late, 4 of the 5 came in the second half. But the effort on the defensive end fell off a cliff once Joker was helped off the court after banging knees with Rudy Gobert. The Jazz had 7 players in double digits, 3 off the bench. Tim Conley hit from deep and facilitated at ease dropping 15 pts/5 asts/1 stl/1 blk. Jordan Clarkson had 19 off the bench showing why he was the NBA 6th-Man-of-the-Year in 2020/2021. And Rudy Gobert got his 3rd double/double in as many games with 23 pts/16 rebs and added a block for good measure.

The Denver Nuggets actually outshot Utah from three with a 35% to 31% edge, but Utah jacked up 11 more of them with 39 to Denver’s 28. They also made 12 to Denver’s 10, unlike Denver who had multiple possessions where they turned the ball over because they made one too many passes while they fought over who would actually take the shot. Utah was just pulling up and letting it fly, no matter how inefficient they may have been.

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You also saw the difference at the offensive boards, when the Nuggets took a shot, all but maybe 1 player would bail to the other end, no one would crash. When Utah was on offense, you would see 3-4 crashing the boards almost every time. Defense in the NBA is about effort more than anything, Utah had it, just like Cleveland did, and Denver didn’t, at least not for 4 full quarters. There were flashes in the first 3 quarters, the Nuggets kept it close throughout that time.

Though I do not condone the way Bol Bol has gone about expressing his frustration with his lack of floor time at points. I also don’t think he’s done anything that bad. If you were that talented watching your team lose back-to-back games, you would be frustrated too. I get why he is so upset, Rudy Gobert and Hassan Whiteside bullied the Nuggets in the paint once Jokic hit the bench for good and JaMychal Green was ejected with Hassan Whiteside for shoving each other. The Nuggets sorely needed size and paint D, why not give the kid some minutes?

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It seems there is some internal strife brewing between Bol and this coaching staff, but feelings should not interfere with winning basketball games. Especially against a division rival, you will most likely be fighting for seeding with by the end of the season. These games are early, but they still count. It seemed by the fourth quarter Coach Malone conceded their fate and just let the starters burnout down the stretch. All starters except Jokic, due to injury, had at least 34 minutes on the floor.

Even if the coaching staff was sending a message to Bol, what about Zeke Nnaji, or some scoring in the form of Bones Hyland? It was strange to see this team get bullied after losing two bigs and Malone do nothing to replace them with options on his bench that were healthy, young, and hungry. These are the situations evaluators dream of. And the Nuggets missed the boat.

I have no doubt we have a different outcome with Joker on the floor for the whole game, but that wasn’t in the cards. You have to play the ones you were dealt, this time, the Nuggets came up short in the Utah Rockies.

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Up Next:

vs Dallas Mavericks Friday, October 29 @ 8:00 PM MST

Where to Watch:

National: ESPN

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Denver Nuggets Look to Bounce Back Against Division Rival

The Denver Nuggets are coming off a bad loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Play first back to back versus well rested Utah Jazz.

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The Denver Nuggets could have used four days off to get things right after a 99-87 loss to the Cavaliers at home. Instead, they get to fly on a red-eye and face a Utah squad that has just been hanging out since Friday. The Nuggets turnover woes came to ahead in their matchup with a team that just took Evan Mobley 3rd-overall in this past year’s draft.

They now take on heated rival Utah Jazz on the road in a stretch that has the Nuggets playing 4-games in 5 days. But this is the pros, no crying over the scheduling. You just play the games they put on the calendar. This will be an early test of this Nuggets team’s resiliency. Will they rebound and play with the same energy that led to a 2-0 start? Or will they continue to sulk and look lethargic like the way that got Michael Porter Jr. called out by Coach Malone in his post-game presser? I believe in the former.

Here is a Denver Nuggets/Utah Jazz team comparison courtesy of Yahoo! Sports:

Both teams come in down their star PG, we all know about Jamal Murray, but Mike Conley is also on the IL with a sore achilles. After three straight games where the Nuggets kept their opponent below 100 points, this may be the one that passes the century mark. Utah can match Denver’s defensive game with their own lead by the Stifle Tower Rudy Gobert. They also play the boards well with the 4th highest rebounds per game at 52. The Nuggets are bottom-10 at 43.5.

Another stat that jumps out is the nuggets Free-Throw%, sitting 30th at 58.8 despite having the best Field-Goal% at 52.1. That is one of the weirdest stats I’ve seen in a while. Neither team’s offense is blowing the doors off anybody. They are pretty much neck and neck as you see above in PPG.

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I see this as being another defensive game where the Nuggets will need to dig deep to come out with a victory. The well-rested Utah Jazz will have to avoid a letdown after a long lay-off. Could be as sloppy as precise on either end. I think the extra jolt you get from playing a division rival will help both squads step up to the national stage of a TNT broadcast.

Key Stats:

30%

The bare minimum a team can shoot from behind the arc and win consistently. The Denver Nuggets shot just 23.7% from three and too many players looked scared to take the big shot. As good as Joker is, he can’t do this alone.

30

It’s looking more and more like Nikola Jokic needs to have this as his average PPG for this offense to reach its full potential sans Jamal Murray.

Key Players:

Michael Porter Jr.: You are going to hear this name a lot in this section. That happens when you sign a max extension in the offseason and average 11.5 points in the first 3 games. This must change.

Bones Hyland: The rookie got to dip his toes in the waters against Cleveland. He made waves leading the bench with 7 points in just 10 mins. He even got a brief look with the starters. Can his stock ascend even more? Coach Malone had high praise after the game.

Aaron Gordon: He has been the most consistent player outside of Nikola. This needs to continue as others around him step up their game.

Final Prediction:

Denver 107 – Utah 105

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Denver Nuggets Waste Vintage Joker Performance

The Denver Nuggets came into this game as one of seven undefeated’s. The Cavaliers riding a big win over Atlanta looked to change that.

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The Denver Nuggets were 2-0 on the strength of their defense holding the Suns and Spurs to under 100 points as has been talked about ad nauseam. They however were plagued by turnovers in both games and three-point efficiency in game 2. Both would rear their ugly heads against the Cavaliers early.

The Nuggets began the night 4-21 from three, with two of the four coming in the last 60 seconds of the first half. The Nuggets were actually down 10 points with 40 seconds left in the half. Then Joker drained his first three of the game and then after a quick turnover by the Cavs drew a 3-point foul with 3 seconds left. Which gave the 4-point first-half deficit 50-46.

These are the first and second quarter shot charts for both teams. Cleveland in red and Denver Nuggets in blue. Courtesy of Yahoo! Sports:

The Nuggets were extremely lucky that the deficit was that small. If the Cavs could have hit their own buckets that is. They started 3-11 from deep and only 19-39 from inside the arch. There was also early foul trouble from the Nuggets that necessitated the early departure of Michael Porter Jr. who had 2 less than halfway through the first quarter. His replacement P.J. Dozier didn’t fare any better as he ended up with 2 of his own before the quarter was over.

This led to something all of Nuggets Nation has been waiting for since the pre-season. Bones Hyland got his first taste of NBA action and boy did he shine. In just over 7 minutes of play in the first half, he put up 5 points on 3-5 shooting, a steal, rebound, and just created utter chaos on the defensive end in concert with fan-favorite Facundo Campazzo. This kid is another in a long list of 2021 Rookies that have started the year strong.

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The MVP Nikola Jokic helped this team stay in it with a 15 point/12 rebound double-double in the first half. But no other Nugget had more than 5 points or 4 rebounds. Half-time adjustments being needed would be a serious understatement.

Though you wouldn’t know half-time adjustments existed with how the Nuggets started the third quarter. They allowed the Cavaliers to build as large as an 11-point lead before the 7-minute mark in the 3rd. This was done on poor shooting by the Nuggets, and absolutely abysmal effort on the defensive end. Too many times the Nuggets defenders were caught watching the play, instead of actually playing their man.

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You thought some energy was injected into the team when MPJ made catch-and-shoot 3 at the 6:30 mark of the quarter. Then you saw Joker pick up the pace running the floor after rebounds. He would have had a triple-double by the end of the 3rd had his teammates just hit the wide-open shots he created. They ended up drawing to within one of Cleveland 66-65. Mostly due to poor shooting by Cleveland on their own end. Denver ended the quarter 7-31 from distance, Cleveland was 6-21.

The Nuggets would tie the game at 70, but that was just when the Cavs found their stroke and Denver went cold. Cleveland would promptly go on a 23-7 run. Denver would show flashes here and there of what made them 2-0. They held 3rd overall pick to just 10-points and 8 rebounds. The slack was more than picked up by Jarrett Allen 21 pts/16 rebs and Kevin Love with 22/6. The Cavs had 5 players in double digits total, as opposed to Denver’s 4. But Love almost outscored Denver’s bench by himself (22-24).

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The Nuggets didn’t do much of anything right in this one. Outside of finally getting to see Bones get minutes, there was nothing fun about this game for Nuggets Nation. They lost the Turnover battle 22-14, shot 23% from three, 22 personal fouls, it was just bleh. You can easily say this was. a “trap” game. But I warned about this in our preview. The Nuggets players outside of Nikola Jokic obviously weren’t listening. They held their third opponent to less than 100, but still lost 99-87.

The Denver Nuggets now get to hustle to DIA and jump on a jet to Salt Lake City to face a Jazz squad that hasn’t played in 4 days tomorrow.

Up Next:

@ Utah Jazz Tuesday October 26 @ 8:00 PM MST

Where to watch:

National Broadcast: TNT

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Denver Nuggets Continue Early Defensive Dominance

The Denver Nuggets entered Friday night riding the high of a dominating win against the Suns. The fear of a let down and a trap game turned out moot versus the Spurs.

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As I stated in our preview, the San Antonio Spurs always play the Denver Nuggets well no matter their talent level. And they did just that in a 102-96 loss. That makes the Spurs the second consecutive opponent this defense has held below the century mark. If the Denver Nuggets can keep up this effort on the defensive end, it could be a long season for their opponents.

The Spurs were coming off dropping 123 on the Orlando Magic in their last game. They had 7 players hit double-digit points in that game. None hit 20 points against the Magic though. Keldon Johnson was able to drop 27 against the Nuggets, but they only had 4 in double-digits this time. The bench scoring they rode to that blowout victory was non-existent as no bench player had a positive plus/minus against the Nuggets or more than 6 points.

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The Nuggets lost the turnover battle by 1 (21-20), and neither Monte Morris nor MPJ was able to reach 5 assists, they had 1 combined. They were offset by the 7 from Nikola Jokic and 6 from Will Barton. The Nuggets were also able to procure 10 steals and 2 blocks. The biggest concern was the 3-point shooting for the Nuggets.

The Denver Nuggets were only able to shoot 30% from three. The only reasons this didn’t come back to haunt Denver was that they shot 51.2% from inside the arc, and the Spurs shot even worst from distance (25%). If Denver runs into a team that gets hot from deep, they could be in trouble.

Here is a shot chart courtesy of Yahoo! Sports to illustrate the ineptitude on both ends of the floor: (Denver Nuggets Right/San Antonio Left)

Denver Nuggets vs San Antonio Spurs Shot Chart (Denver Right/San Antonio Left)

Though if they continue to play defense as they have in the first 2 games, they may not allow anyone to get hot from anywhere on the floor. The Spurs also showed some moxie while never allowing the game to get out of hand and keeping themselves within striking distance. The Nuggets just hit the shots late the Spurs couldn’t. This was a great thing to see, two nights in a row a new player stepped up late to hit the shots Jamal Murray would be taking were he on the floor. Game 1 was Will Barton, game 2 was MPJ. If the Nuggets continue this collective effort, the time without Murray will be much more fun to watch than any anticipated.

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Player of the Game:

Nikola Jokic: The reigning MVP was nigh unstoppable when he went to the Sombor Shuffle or one-foot fade away he’s made famous. He ended the night with a slash of 32/7/16 in 29 minutes for his second double-double in as many games.

Bench Player of the Game:

Jamychal Green: While his 4 turnovers and 3 personal fouls were a little concerning. His 10 points and 3 steals were crucial when Jokic and Co needed a break.

Up Next:

vs Cleveland Cavaliers Monday, October 25 @ 7:00 PM MST

Where to Watch:

Denver: AltitudeTV

Cleveland: Fox Sports Ohio

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Denver Nuggets Get Revenge in Valley of the Sun

The Denver Nuggets had their last season ended by the Phoenix Suns. On opening night, they got started on the right foot with a 110-98 victory.

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The Denver Nuggets have had opening night circled on their calendars since the schedule was released. After their unceremonious exit handed to them by this very Phoenix Suns squad with a dominant sweep at their hands. Good on the NBA schedule makers for not making basketball fans wait for this matchup. It was everything it was hyped to be. With hardnosed, borderline old school physical play throughout, and the momentum swings that make an instant classic.

Outside of the few minutes the Nuggets led in the first half, their win probability was negative until the 3-minute mark in the 3rd quarter. The Denver defense would clamp down with Aaron Gordon playing out of his mind in the 2nd half running the floor and swatting balls in every direction. The Suns’ stars were essentially non-existent in that second half. Phoenix’s leading scorer was Mikal Bridges with 16 points. Not a single Suns starter had a positive plus/minus.

The Nuggets on the other hand dominated with their starters. Every single one had at least a +18, and were lead in scoring by MVP Nikola Jokic’s 27. And all but Monte Morris (9 pts) were in double-digits. If there was any worries about this squad it’s the Bench being a bit anemic despite P.J. Dozier dropping 10 and new addition Jeff Green had 13. No other bench player for the Nuggets had more than 2 points.

As far as the key stats from our preview. Nikola fell just short of 30 with 27 points. And the Nuggets shot over 45% from the field. The biggest surprise in this game was the 20 points dropped by Will Barton as the 2nd leading Nugget scorer while going 4-8 from 3. Many times on the broadcast the announcers consternated about who would take up the big shot in the absence of Murray. At least for one night, Will the Thrill did his part and then some.

Will Barton Shot Chart courtesy of Yahoo! Sports

This was a wonderful game to watch for Nuggets Nation, but it is only game 1. They have another tough test in their home opener with the San Antonio Spurs who seem to play this team tough whether they are good or not. And they are never a slouch. So here’s to hoping the bench picks up the scoring pace, I believe an infusion of Hyland could elevate that unit. He saw 0 minutes on the floor in the opener after leading the team in scoring in the preseason. The way this Nuggets organization protects its young guns can be infuriating, but I trust they know what they are doing.

Up Next:

vs San Antonio Spurs Friday, October 22 @ 7:00 PM

Where to Watch:

Denver: AltitudeTV

Denver Nuggets Begin Season Where It Ended

The Denver Nuggets open the season against the team that ended their hopes of a 2021 NBA Championship. They look to get one back against the Phoenix Suns in the season opener.

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The Denver Nuggets get an early chance at revenge for an early exit handed them by the Phoenix Suns in last years playoffs. While the Nuggets made waves by keeping the status quo. The Suns took it to a different level making only 3 transactions total this past offseason. They traded for Landry Shamet on draft night. Then signed JaVale McGee (yes that JaVale), and Elfrid Payton in free agency. With both squads being almost identical to the ones that met 4 months ago, most expect a similar result.

This includes Vegas that has the Suns as pretty heavy favorites. I think they are discounting this squads bench a bit after a 1-4 preseason. I say doubt them at your peril, as this bench might be the best since J.R. Smith was in his prime and leading the charge off the pine as a top-5 Sixth Man. The Nuggets may have found their new Sixth Man in Bones Hyland (whom I highlighted in my season preview here) who led the team in the preseason in points (76), three’s (13), and assists (23).

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The playoff matchup was a stark contrast from the regular season meetings between the two. The Denver Nuggets won the season series 2-1. They did nead one and two overtimes to get those victories, and the lone win by the Suns was by only 3 points. Nobody in their right minds had the Suns winning the series before it started, let alone a dominating sweep. So it’s interesting to see so many that are adamant the Suns are going to cover a 6 point spread.

I don’t see the Suns sneaking up, let alone continuing a small sample size dominance after a 4 month hiatus. Chris Paul even has something to say about that.

“It’s not going to be easy getting back,” he said of a return to the Finals. “Like Coach Monty (Williams) says: We’re not sneaking up on anybody this year.”

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Like CP3 said, they will get every team’s best shot, every game. Let alone the team with a personal vendetta and a conference rival. Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic wants to prove that wasn’t a one-year fluke. He even opted out of playing for the Serbian National Team of his home country so he could rest and recover for this season. He knows without Jamal Murray to lighten the load he will be leaned on heavily to make this offense go. While also needing to be solid on the defensive end too. He averaged almost a 30 point triple-double (30/16/7) in those 2 regular season wins. If he can do that, and the bench can shoot at least 40% from the field, Nuggets win. If they don’t, Nuggets end up with another one in the nuggs like this.

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Players to Watch:

Monte Morris: Can he keep this offense humming while Jamal Murray heals?

Bones Hyland: Can he capitalize on a strong pre-season and maybe even push Monte for a starting spot?

Bol Bol: Does the kid finally earn a bigger role after leading the Nuggets Summer League team in scoring?

JaMychal Green: Can the Vet fulfill his promise as a big man with range?

Key Stat:

30 and 40

I kinda gave this away in the last paragraph above. Thirty-plus points for Joker, and 40% from the field from the bench. If those two numbers can be met, the Nuggets win.

$172 Million

That’s the cost of a rookie max extension for 2018 first-rounders. No, Ayton is not Joker or Embiid but he is just a rung below. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the fact that Ayton and the Suns were unable to come to an agreement before the deadline. While the world watches Ben Simmons, I’ll be watching the Arizona desert for smoke signals, indicating a possible fire.

Final Prediction:

Denver Nuggets 120-Pheonix Suns 108

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Nuggets Route Heat in First Game Without Murray

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Nuggets withstand early onslaught en route to drubbing of Miami Heat 123-106 in first game without star Murray.

The Denver Nuggets came into their first night without their star, just like their Ball Arena roommates. As they learned Tuesday that they would be without Jamal Murray until the playoff run next year after he tore his ACL against the Warriors on Monday. This meant Monte Morris sliding into the starting lineup to facilitate while everyone looked at Aaron Gordon to see how he could fill the scoring hole left by the loss of Murray.

Miami looked to make a statement early as they would jump out to an early lead they would grow to as much as 6 points. Bam Adebayo would end up with a game-high 8 points in the frame as both defenses would come to play. The major difference was the 6 Denver turnovers to Miami’s 0. This lead to a 31-26 edge going into the second. Not a single Nugget had more than 6 points in the quarter.

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The second quarter saw Air Gordon lift off and carry the Nuggets to the lead 32-31 with 10 minutes left in the half. This is the point the Nuggets took over and built a 60-49 halftime lead. They did this on the back of Michael Porter Jr. falling one rebound shy of a double-double half at 17 pts/9 rebs. Nikola Jokic chipped in 13 pts/6 asts/3 rebs./1 blk. You had P.J. Dozier and JaMychal Green go a combined 6-7 from the field for 15 pts/2 rebs/2 asts/1 stl. The only real concern was the absolutely empty box score for Will Barton who had 1 asts/1 reb/1 TO in the first half. But due to sound defense, he managed to keep every Nugget player with a positive rating in both PER and +/-.

Here is one of those moments that sparked a Nuggets team that seemed flat courtesy of the Denver Nuggets Social Team:

Miami on the other hand went absolutely cold after that fast start that had them at 50% from three at the end of the first. Yes, they could only manage to score 18 points in the entire quarter. By the time halftime rolled around, that 3-point% had dropped all the way down to 37.6%. Trevor Ariza led the Heat in scoring with 13 pts. Bam Adebayo was right behind with 12, this was more than the rest of the Heat roster combined (24 pts.). That’s obviously not going to cut it against any NBA team, regardless of their injury list.

The third would see Barton score his first points on a fast-break trey at just over 7 mins. to go in the quarter. The quarter also saw MPJ, Dozier, and Green stay en fuego. MPJ would build his game-high point total to 22, but still a rebound shy of that double-double. Jokic would get his double-double with 17 pts/10 asts/6 rebs. putting him within shot of his 15th triple-double of the season. PJ almost double his point total to 13, and Green had 11 pts of his own. With 4 out of 5 starters in double digits, that put 6 total Nuggets with at least 11 points after three quarters of basketball. That’s how you build a 96-79 lead going into the final frame.

This is what hustle from your stars leads to. Courtesy of the Denver Nuggets Social Team:

The Nuggets would build a 105-84 with less than 10 minutes to go, forcing Miami into a full-court press. At this point in the game, it didn’t seem to matter what Miami did, Denver had an answer. Even Coach Malone learned from past mistakes when the Nuggets bench, despite their offensive output, started to slip defensively halfway through the quarter. He called a timeout and got his starters back in the game. Unlike the unspeakable events, we all witnessed on Sunday afternoon. This after the bench allowed Miami to within single-digits. The starters would commence rebuilding as much as a 24-point lead. This allowed Malone to empty his bench in the final minutes giving us a rare Bol Bol sighting where he would score 6 points in just 2:36 floor time.

MPJ would cool down but still end up with a game high 25 pts and finally got that 10th rebound for the double-double. Nikola would secure his 15th triple-double of the season with 17 pts/10 rebs/11 asts and 2 blocks for good measure. Green threw in 17 pts and a block off the bench. While Dozier finished with 15/4/2, Facundo Campazzo complimented Monte Morris’ 11/2/3 with 8/5/2 of his own. That means Murray’s direct replacements were 19/7/5, that’s not bad when you have AG/MPJ/Joker to carry the majority of the burden. If they can get that on a nightly basis with one or the other putting up a big night here and there, this Nuggets team just might go further than most think in light of Murray’s injury.

Here’s one of those sweet MP jays courtesy of the Denver Nuggets Social Team:

Speaking of AG, he had 16 pts/3 asts/9 rebs. falling just a rebound short of a double-double himself. All this scoring was not the take away though. It was that from the 10 minute mark in the second until the end of the game, the Nuggets committed a total of one turnover. If the Nuggets can score like they did tonight, 6 in double digits, 9 with at least 6 points. Suffocate on defense with 7 blocks, 5 steals and 8 total turnovers forced (Heat only had 2 TO’s at that 10 min mark).

Although the Heat also got 4-out-of-5 starters to double digits in score, their bench had perfomances like Tyler Herro putting up 5 points in 26+ mins. No Heat bench player scored more than 8, and both those players needed at least 17 minutes to get to that 8 points. Duncan Robinson, the lone Heat not to reach double digits took over 24 minutes to score 9 points on 3-6 shooting. The Nuggets simply showed their depth as a strength and simply beat Miami into submission from the 2nd quarter on.

This shot chart illustrates why Denver’s offense is so maddening, they truly can score from anywhere when they are on. Courtesy of Yahoo! Sports:
Up Next:

@ Houston Rockets Friday, April 16 at 6:00 PM MST

Where to Watch:

Denver Market: Altitude TV

Houston Market: AT&T SportsNet Southwest

Nuggets Get Busy Against Clippers

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Nuggets build early lead, then stomp on the chest of the Clippers holding them under the century mark winning 101-94.

The Nuggets came out of the blocks firing. Building a 20-9 lead with 6 mins. to go in the first. This done on the back of 10 pts. from Will Barton, and 5-a-piece for Aaron Gordon and Michael Porter Jr. There would be a bit of a back and forth for the next 4 minutes having Denver build as big as a 13-point lead, then L.A. shrinks it to as little as 9. Only to settle on that 11-point difference at 31-20 by the end of one.

In the first quarter, you got to see all that Aaron Gordon brings to this team. He guarded every Clipper player from the 2-5, he flushed dunks, splashed a three, dished 3 assists, and added on a steal to top it all off. He both lead offensive breaks, as well as breaking up the Clippers’ own breaks with great hustle on defense. Those 10 by Barton would be a team-high for the quarter, but 6 Nuggets scoring at least 1 bucket, and the team shooting 56% from the floor offset the 4 total points they got from Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray combined.

This is why Jokic is the MVP. Courtesy of the Denver Nuggets Social Team:

The second quarter saw the Clippers get testy as the Nuggets lead grew to as much as 17 points. Jokic would continue his cold night in scoring with only 4 points in the first half. He still chipped in 5 rebounds and 4 assists, still putting him in range for a triple-double. You also had the Nuggets bench outscored 13-9. But you can sustain a large lead though when you have 4 out of 5 Denver starters in double digits and play defense to the tune of Paul George having a team-high 10 points and the Clippers shooting a 37.8% from the field.

This was a complete flip from Tuesday’s game against Philly that saw the Nuggets run out to a big lead in the 4th, slow down in the 2nd, crack in the 3rd, and then almost completely cave in during the 4th. This time Denver was able to keep up the energy through the entire first half building a 62-49 lead. The perceived lack of foul calls and this Nuggets tempo must have got to the Clippers as Marcus Morris picked up a technical when an audible “this is bull—-” was picked up by the field mics on the floor that was directed at officials after a circus act of a lay-up by Murray late in the half. This to go with their 9 personal fouls, and 4 TO’s.

This is why I say forget the stat-line, courtesy of the Denver Nuggets Social Team.

I know there will be those that talk about “wait until Patrick Beverly and Serge Ibaka get back.” These tired excuses are getting old when it comes to people trying to dismiss this Denver squad. It was nice to hear some on a national broadcast actually give Joker his due on camera. But every time it was countered by “but don’t forget (insert name from a major market team here)” by some biased “analyst”.

That could do nothing to damper the product on the floor though. Especially on the Nuggets side, by the end of 3 quarters they had made 10 threes, shot 49.2% from the floor, including 50% from distance. They also had 4 starters with at least 14 points (Gordon 14, MPJ 16, Murray 15, 16 Barton). While L.A. had only 2 starters in double digits (Leonard 20, George 12) with Terance Mann pitching in 10 off the bench. L.A.’s foul trouble continued with 4, but was able to close the lead a little as Denver committed 6 of their own. And the Clipper bench continued outscoring the Nuggets’ 19-11. This all got them back to the same deficit after the first of 11 at 81-70 by the time the 3rd was over.

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The 4th quarter saw Jokic on the bench with 3 fouls and the Nuggets go completely flat. That lack of bench production from the road team started to take its toll on that double digit lead. The Nuggets only had 4 turnovers in the first half. With half the fourth to go, Denver had committed 9. This allowed L.A. to close to within 1 at 84-83 with 6:30 left on the clock. Jokic had returned a few minutes before this and the difference was palpable. Forget the still respectable 14 pts./7 rebs./7 assist stat-line (with yet another 0-0 in the FT stat column). There were no gaudy stat-lines by a single Nuggets player, but all 5 starters scored at least 14 pts. Everyone ate because the Nuggets had 28 assists on 39 made shots. And even though he wasn’t putting up huge stats, Jokic stayed involved and made sure his teammates did the same.

The Clippers continued to battle, but the new-look Nuggets were just too much. L.A. never lead, that 84-83 score was the closest you can get, but nonetheless, facts are facts. Leonard put up a double-double with 24 pts/12 rebs., George had 17 pts./8 rebs., and Mann had himself a night with 18 pts./6 rebs. No other Clipper had more than 8 pts (Morris/Zubac) and 5 rebs. (Nicolas Batum). An early hole and consistent defensive effort by Denver were too much for L.A. to overcome.

This win by the Nuggets put them in a virtual tie with both L.A. squads for 3rd place in the West. The Clippers still hold a 1-game lead with 2 more wins, but all 3 squads have 18 losses. If Denver can continue to play defense as they have for the last week. The 3 squads ahead of them better get worried, in fact, the league should take notice after a prime-time win against this stacked and mostly healthy Clippers team. Not the backhanded compliments NBA on TNT’s team struggled to give. This Denver squad is now on a 4-game win streak after an 11-3 March. Next we get to see Aaron Gordon against his old team for the first time.

Up Next:

Vs Orlando Magic Sunday, April 4 at 8:00 PM MST

Where to watch:

Denver Market: Altitude TV

Orlando Market: Fox Sports Florida

National Broadcast: NBATV