The Nuggets came into tonight’s game with an opportunity to finish out their road trip on a positive note, move into the ninth spot in the West and keep their head held high before returning to Denver for a three-game home stand.
Instead, they shit the bed, rolled over in it, and turned it into a dumpster fire.
The Mavericks were the worst team in the league before tonight’s game, but they certainly didn’t play like it. Dallas came out hot on a 10-2 run, and the rest is history. Seriously. Denver was never in this game mentally or physically. The Nuggets couldn’t even muster a typical second half comeback to bring it into single digits.
Sure, Denver was playing its sixth and final game on a road trip, which inherently made this game more difficult. But that’s an excuse. There are none for this kind of performance.
Dallas’ offense was led by the red-hot Wesley Matthews, who shot nearly perfect from three and finished with 25 points. Deron Williams and Harrison Barnes also had good shooting nights, finishing with 15 and 18 points respectively. Overall, Dallas shot 58 percent from the floor, nearly 20 percent higher than on average.
The only real bright spot for Denver was Nikola Jokic, who only played spot minutes in the first half before exploding in the second half. He finished with 27 points, 11 rebounds and four assists. Jamal Murray also chipped in 15 and Emmanuel Mudiay scored 17 in his hometown to go with four assists.
Jokic’s solid play is hardly a silver lining, though. At this point it’s so clear how much of a positive impact he has on the game when he’s on the floor. And that’s not a knock on Jusuf Nurkic, who is still a very good player with a high ceiling. Jokic is simply the best player on this team, and he needs to be playing more than 23 minutes each night. In addition to his impressive stat line, he was also the only Nugget to play meaningful minutes and finish positive overall at+2, which is incredible given that Denver lost by 20.
If this isn’t an indication that he either needs to play 30+ minutes or to actually start, I don’t know what is.
One major takeaway was just how good of a coach Rick Carlisle is. He completely masterminded this game and took a depleted roster (albeit with three very good players in Matthews, Barnes and Williams) and just took it to Denver. He had his guards pressure Denver’s guards all night long, which for an elderly Jameer Nelson and young Mudiay/Murray made it difficult for the offense to get in rhythm. And he had his team create mismatches and attack the paint all night. Dallas had 40 points in the paint in the first half alone, which helped put the game away early.
His team came prepared to play, executed, and won as a result.
"The Nuggets don't have a philosophy or any leadership of any kind on this team." --Mavericks announcers.— Gordon Gross (@GMoneyNuggs) December 13, 2016
Tonight’s coaching by Malone, on the other hand, was far from his finest moment. His team wasn’t ready to play (again), the offense reverted back to iso-ball more often than not (again), and we’re 25 games into the season and he still has no consistency with his rotations. His best player, Jokic, hardly played 10 minutes in the first half when the game was still kind of in reach.
It’s beyond evident that this team has several issues to work out, and it’s not just the players. This team is stuck between a rock and a hard place with developing the youth and winning games, but let’s hope that this is the final wake-up call Denver receives this season. Whatever is going on right now clearly isn’t working.