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Recap: Nuggets fall flat on back-to-back against Kings

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On second night of a back-to-back, the Nuggets played poorly.

NBA: Sacramento Kings at Denver Nuggets Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

The Sacramento Kings came to the Mile High city to face the Denver Nuggets, and they left with a relatively easy 120-113 loss. For the Nuggets, it was yet another poor showing against a mediocre team.

Denver fell to 1-6 on the second night of a back-to-back, and it looks like they just couldn’t care less.

The Kings started by using DeMarcus Cousins to guard Wilson Chandler, while Nikola Jokic started the game guarding Kosta Koufus. Cousins earns two points at the free throw line, while Chandler hit a three pointer in Cousins’ face on the other end. The Nuggets generated a bunch of open threes to start the game, and while they only hit a few of them, it was enough to jump out to an early lead.

Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler hit two threes apiece, but on the other end, Chandler really struggled defensively to deal with Cousins or stay in front of guards when a switch occurred. Darrell Arthur subbed in for Chandler and immediately stepped out of bounds on a 4-on-1 fast break. He made up for it with a three on the next possession and an incredible block on the other end.

After Jokic went out, Jusuf Nurkic came in and had a great stretch to end the first quarter. He did give up a perimeter jumper to Cousins, but he was a physical presence, bullying Cousins down low and gobbling up rebounds. Turnovers, miscommunication on defense, and lazy rebounding (other than Nurkic) prevented the Nuggets from capitalizing on it, and they finished the first quarter down 29-28.

Jameer Nelson opened up the scoring for Denver in the second quarter on a transition three, and Barton followed it up with a three of his own. This group had some good moments, but turnovers really killed offensive momentum. On the other end, the Kings scored the majority of their points in the paint. Nurkic did his best to contest, but it’s hard when the other team’s point guard gets a free pass to the paint.

After Jokic came back in, the Nuggets decided they didn’t want to run the offense through him when Nelson bricked a wide open three. It was very difficult basketball to watch on both ends, and Malone went back to the rest of the starters at the 6:00 minute mark in the second quarter. The starters didn’t fare much better ball movement wise. Cousins flopped a foul on Jokic, and he went to the bench with two fouls at the 4:46 mark in favor of Nurkic. Frankly, this group doesn’t even deserve a recap. They were awful on both ends too. The Kings went on a 16-0 run at one point...sigh. The Nuggets recovered a little bit behind a motivated Nurkic and a sweet shooting Arthur. The former Jayhawk had three three pointers in the first half, helping the Nuggets keep the deficit in the single digits at 60-51 going into halftime.

The second half started with a forced turnover, but Gary Harris couldn’t make the Kings pay. The Kings hit multiple threes on the other end due to poor effort and rotations. I’m looking at Emmanuel Mudiay here. Jokic had a nice And-1 and some assists, but even more opportunities that the Nuggets missed on. A contested transition three pointer from Mudiay, offensive rebounding opportunities for the Kings, and bad defense from Jokic kept the Nuggets behind.

Gary Harris finally started hitting some shots though, splashing two threes, and Nurkic continued to get under Cousins’ skin a bit. Nurkic blocked a Cousins shot attempt and was also a physical on the glass, helping Denver withstand another poor defensive performance. He even had a sweet steal on Darren Collison. Quietly, Gallo accumulated 24 points, and it was him and Nurkic carrying the Nuggets through that quarter, cutting the lead to just 6, 94-88 at the end of the 3rd.

The Nuggets opened up the 4th with a nice two-man game between Nelson and Jokic. On the next offensive possession, Nelson gave it right back, leading to a layup. The next possession? Murray turned it over, leading to a three. Just like that, all the work the previous group had accomplished went for nothing. Both teams went back and forth after that with some forgettable offensive possessions. Every time the Nuggets did something good, it was usually Nelson or poor officiating killing the momentum.

As the starters came back in, the team went back to Jokic repeatedly, and he rewarded them in a variety of ways. He played solid defense on Cousins, facilitated for others, and above all, put the round thing in the basket. Didn’t really matter though. The defense from multiple others and rebounding was extremely lacking. Basically, the starters other than Jokic and Gallo failed miserably tonight. After Collison’s 26th point, the starters were pulled and the benches emptied.

Key matchup: Nikola Jokic vs DeMarcus Cousins

They didn’t matchup with each other often, but Cousins certainly had the better game. The Nuggets focused entirely on stopping Cousins, compromising their defensive scheme to do so at times. Jokic made some plays all around, but his defense tonight was sub par until the 4th quarter.

Closing thought: I’m never predicting a win again

Frankly, they just don’t deserve a prediction. The team is so young and inconsistent that anybody who can accurately predict how they perform needs to be tested for super powers. Cousins went off, which was expected. What wasn’t expected was the field goal percentage inside the arc. Sure, they are coming off a back-to-back, but they just didn’t look motivated to win. When this team finds a way to harness that motivation and play like that 80-90 percent of the time, rather than 60 percent of the time, they will win more games. Winning is extremely hard in the NBA for 27 basketball teams right now, and the Nuggets are in that group. They simply don’t have the talent to coast to the playoffs. We will see if they can turn it around.