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Recap: Nuggets lose to Thunder to wrap up preseason 3-2

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In a disturbing flashback to last season, late game energy couldn’t help the Nuggets crawl out of the early hole they dug.

It sure didn’t feel like a preseason game tonight in Denver with the local crowd eager for the first home game of the season, and hopeful to see Carmelo Anthony lose. Coach Mike Malone stated that the the Nuggets’ starters haven’t seen many 4th quarter minutes this preseason, and that they may just get the opportunity to close out the game against the Oklahoma City Thunder tonight. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what didn’t happen.

Nikola Jokic wasted no time getting physical instigating a flagrant 1 foul on the reigning MVP Russell Westbrook. If I can be a homer for a bit, I kind of like seeing Jokic let Westbrook know he’s not intimidated by the MVP status.

The Nuggets did a good job of moving the ball and playing aggressive early on, but shots struggled to fall not just from distance, but under the rim as well. Westbrook began to heat up with 14 points in the first on 6 of 7 shooting, while the Nuggets struggled with turnovers, rushed shots, and missed layups shooting just 21%.

Denver opened the second quarter with enthusiasm, and worked their way back to within 6 points of OKC. Will Barton managed to force a couple of turnovers to make a fast break, but the Nuggets still couldn’t get anything to fall.

For OKC, Paul George struggled with turnovers, but Westbrook did his Wedtbrook thing blazing a mostly uncontested trail to the rim. Anthony was just 3 of 10 shooting for the game, and picked up a technical foul after getting a little too physical under the rim. The Thunder led the Nuggets 49-39 at the close of the half shooting 50% from the field as a team.

Malone did what he could to jump start the Nuggets’ offense in the 2nd half by starting Torrey Craig in place of Wilson Chandler, but the Thunder opened the 3rd quarter by going on an 8-0 run on Denver to go up by 18 points. OKC played very physical on defense, and the Nuggets weren’t able to keep up looking a little winded coming off their early road trip.

Toward the end of the 3rd, the Nuggets seemed to pick up a bit of momentum catching up to within 5 points with some key effort from Barton and Jameer Nelson. This energy continued into the final quarter of the game with Barton bringing the Nuggets back to within 1 point shooting a remarkable 66% from 3.

However, the Thunder quickly regained control (after Malone changed the lineup as he tends to do when things are going well) going on a 17-4 run to put them up by 15 in no time. The Nuggets ultimately lost by ten points 96-86.

Top takeaways from tonight’s game:

The Nuggets don’t respond well to physicality.

The Thunder are a more physical team, and the extra pressure set the Nuggets’ offensive teeth on edge tonight. We will talk about how the Nuggets need to be more physical on defense in a moment, but they need to be more comfortable with a more physical style of play in general.

I heard it mentioned that the Nuggets were struggling with the higher altitude tonight after playing on the road for so many games. Nonsense. OKC came to higher altitude and delivered a beating to the Nuggets with little trouble. As I mentioned in the game preview, poise was going to be important for the Nuggets against OKC. Tonight they didn’t come out with the poise they needed to beat a very talented and physical team.

The defensive woes continue.

Apart from Plumlee, Chandler, and a little from Juancho, the defensive effort from the Nuggets wasn’t there tonight. If Denver wants a chance in the elite Western Conference this season, they must learn to play better defense more consistently. We saw spurts of energy on D in the 3rd and 4th quarter, but the partial commitments won’t cut it over the long haul.

We saw this inconsistency last season, and now that most everyone has at least a season under their belt, it’s time to focus. If the Nuggets can take the effort they put forth in the late 3rd/early 4th quarter, and expand that to 48 minutes of consistency they will be in a much better place. Let’s hope they get some rest over the next week because things will only get more difficult from here.