Have the Denver Nuggets finally figured things out? They once again came out firing with their new-look starting lineup against the New York Knicks, never relinquishing the lead as they continued to hold Carmelo Anthony winless in Denver since the 2011 blockbuster trade. They won 127-114 behind Kenneth Faried’s team-high 25 points off the bench. Anthony’s 29 points to go along with Kristaps Porzingis’ 22 proved to not be enough against the depth of the newly improved Nuggets.
A couple early threes and points in the paint allowed the Nuggets to obtain a 12-3 lead, with the the Knicks’ only points coming off a three by Anthony early on. Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler took turns guarding Anthony, with the other one in charge of Porzingis. Meanwhile, Nikola Jokic started out doing a little bit of everything. He scored inside, dished out assists and notched rebounds. The Knicks struggled to get anything besides jump shots and Jokic once again made incredible passes, leading the Nuggets to a 24-13 lead before having to go out with two early fouls. With the bench in, the Nuggets continued to play well, and Nurkic even had a nice block that lead to a three-point play by Will Barton on the other end. The first quarter ended with the Nuggets leading 33-22 and fans already on triple-double watch after Jokic notched 4 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists in 8 minutes. Anthony had 7 points for the Knicks.
The bench then increased the lead in the second quarter, after a couple threes from Barton and Jamal Murray created a 41-24 lead and forced the road team to take a timeout. A bright spot for the Knicks during this period was Willy Hernangomez, brother of Juancho. He showed good rebounding skills and ended up finishing with 17 points and 10 rebounds. The Knicks went on a 10-1 scoring run in part thanks to Hernangomez, until Jokic came in and put an end to it. Immediately after that he picked up his third foul, forcing Malone to go back to Faried. Gallinari and Jokic both had three fouls by the end of the first half, and despite Melo’s 18 points, this was the Nuggets’ biggest concern going into halftime.
The Nuggets were not able to increase their lead early in the third and a three by Courtney Lee forced an early timeout from Malone after the Knicks got within five points. Jokic then got his fourth foul after fighting for a rebound but stayed in the game for a little bit despite of it. Emmanuel Mudiay then heated up for the home team and he and the Nuggets started clicking once again on offense. They had great ball movement, played some good defense (Faried had some nice blocks...even one on Melo!) and opened up a 96-80 lead heading to the final quarter. The Knicks were not able to get very close after that, as the Nuggets proved to have too many weapons for them to contain. Gallinari, Mudiay, Faried, Barton...they all contributed in this game. The home team was able to walk away with their second straight win, appearing to have turned over a new leaf.
Key Thing to Watch for: The starting lineup
If it works, why mess with it? Coach Malone seems to have picked his fave five starters, still going with Chandler and Gallinari to complement Jokic in the frontcourt. This lineup has proven extremely dangerous for opposing teams. The only downside to Jokic playing so many minutes early on is that he has been picking up a ton of early fouls. If the Nuggets want to see how good they can truly be with this lineup and rotation, Jokic has got to stay on the court for as long as possible. It’s becoming more and more obvious that he’s their best player so if the Nuggets want to be as good a team as they can be, he has to get a lot of minutes. Still, this lineup really works - all of the shooters space the court and the team has enough depth that they haven’t really missed Chandler’s production off the bench. This could be the turning point in the season for the Nuggets, and as long as the team stays healthy and everybody accepts their role, there could be many more games like the last two in their future.
Key Question #1: What’s going to happen with Jusuf Nurkic?
Well, as long as Jokic continues to get into foul trouble, Jusuf Nurkic might be a needed asset for the Nuggets and may not have as limited a role as Malone thought. Despite Jokic’s foul trouble though, Faried is continuing to play the majority of the minutes at backup center. He didn’t disappoint in that role tonight, scoring 25 points to go with 7 rebounds and 3 blocks. It still seems like a bit of a waste to keep Nurkic in a limited role, so the question remains: Can the Bosnian Beast embrace coming off the bench, or is a parting of ways likely for him and the Nuggets?
Key Question #2: Have fans forgiven Carmelo Anthony?
If there was a lot of booing, it was not very audible through the television except for when Melo took to the free-throw line. It seems fitting that the Nuggets seemed to have turned things around in just enough time to play the Knicks and remind all of us how great that blockbuster trade ended up being for the Nuggets. While Anthony was great tonight - he was 10/14 from the field - he was not able to carry his team to a win despite keeping them within striking distance most of the game. Meanwhile, the Nuggets had so many players that performed well that they all could not even be mentioned in this recap. Gary Harris had a quiet yet effective 16 points, for example. While they have definitely missed having a go-to player on offense in the 5 years that Melo has been gone from Denver, the organization seems to have not given up on the notion that depth and strength in numbers will be what allows this team to reach its highest potential. Here’s to hoping that can be achieved with this roster.
Oh, and this happened too: