On Saturday night, the Denver Nuggets had every opportunity to start their 2016-17 campaign at 2-0.
They failed. Spectacularly.
In the final minutes of the game, Denver turned the ball over, missed free throws, failed defensively, and might as well have just started kicking the ball toward the rim rather than shooting it. It was an exquisite mess. However, for as bad as that last part of the game was for the Nuggets, there were some positives to glean from the game. In the second half, Nikola Jokic once again looked like the player that challenged for the ROY award. Also, Emmanuel Mudiay had an amazing third quarter on both ends of the floor. Kenneth Faried once more showed that coming off the bench could be a real boon to his career (but maybe stagger his minutes in the 2nd half a bit?). Jusuf Nurkic continued his dominance down low (although in limited minutes). All in all, a lot of good things came out of the Portland match-up...well, except for that whole losing the game thing.
While nothing will change that loss to a win, the good thing about the NBA is you can get back on the court expeditiously to erase the bad taste such a loss leaves. Denver has that opportunity as they face off against the Toronto Raptors, led by their dynamic back court of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. Although I'm not a fan of his game (OK, that's probably an understatement), there's no denying that DeRozan requires the attention of the defense on every possession. Considering the struggles the Nuggets have had containing penetration through preseason and at least large portions of the first two games, the story of this game could well be in how the back courts fair against each other. This also doesn't bring up how well Terrence Ross played against Denver in the preseason.
Three things I'm looking for:
Can Juka get fourth quarter minutes?
In the first two games, Jusuf Nurkic has arguably been Denver's most dominant player. However, that dominance hasn't led to Michael Malone playing him in crunch time. In fact, he's yet to record a single minute of playing time in the fourth quarter. Now, there may be legitimate reasons for this, but it would be good to see Juka get a little bit of run late in the game.
Garris and Darth - We need you!
Due to recovering from injury and/or surgery, we have yet to see the season debut of two of the better defenders on the roster: Gary Harris and Darrell Arthur. Even if we were to discount any sort of positives both might give on the offensive end, late game situations like last night - ones where a stop can win you the game - evince how important these two are to the Nuggets success this season. Both have been close to returning in each of the first two games. Hopefully, on this start of a brutal 5 game road trip, we'll get these two back in the line up.
The past is the past
As tough as the loss was On Saturday night, Denver needs to let it go and put it in their rear view mirror, Yeah, it's a cliche, but it's a cliche for a reason. Carrying the disappointment forward will not serve the team in this game. In addition to letting the Portland loss go, the Nuggets also need to forget how they dominated the Raptors last season. This is a completely new season, and any perceived supremacy must be let go. Overconfidence, especially in such a young team, should be shunned.