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Nuggets recover to beat the Sacramento Kings 114-98

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It was a tough first half to watch, but the good guys recovered for a win on the road.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Sacramento Kings Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

After a slow start, the Denver Nuggets came out strong in the second half and beat the Sacramento Kings 114-98. Will Barton had 25 points and five three-pointers. Gary Harris had 20 points and three three-pointers. Nikola Jokic posted 16 points and 14 rebounds while commanding the offense. Even without Paul Millsap and Wilson Chandler, Juancho Hernangomez and Trey Lyles stepped up to fill the void, while Faried brought the energy and made some plays himself. No Kings player scored more that 16 points, as the Nuggets defense clamped down and made things difficult on guards and bigs alike.

The Nuggets started Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Will Barton, Kenneth Faried, and Nikola Jokic tonight, and they came out looking to run. Each of the guards and forwards scored a basket before the Kings were forced to call a timeout. That level of offense wasn’t sustained by Denver coming out of the timeout though, and the Kings took advantage of some defensive mistakes by the Nuggets as De’Aaron Fox broke down the defense and created favorable situations. Trey Lyles and Emmanuel Mudiay were the first substitutions, and as soon as Jokic went out, the Nuggets offense and defense fell apart. Denver did not score again in the first quarter until a buzzer-beater layup by Lyles in transition. From terrible decisions by Mudiay and Mason Plumlee to poor execution by everyone else, the offense and defense showed zero energy whatsoever. Fortunately, the Kings aren’t very good, and the score was tied at 22 points after one quarter.

Denver went to the Jokic-Plumlee lineup in the second quarter without Emmanuel Mudiay on the floor, and the team immediately started playing better. Decision making was still questionable at times, but Plumlee proved to be useful as the rover in the Nuggets offense. Then Mudiay came back in and immediately turned the ball over twice. Will Barton saved Denver’s bacon though, generating 16 points on 10 shots. On the other end, the defense was solid, and it kept Denver in the game. Jokic in particular generated a ton of misses by the Sacramento bigs, and the guards were forced into late shot clock situations at other points. Denver again tied the Kings at half 47-47.

Jokic came out firing in the third quarter but was poked in the eye going for an offensive rebound after a missed three. The offense never really recovered after that, with offensive players sleeping on the perimeter waiting for the ball handler to break down his man. After the timeout though, Jokic took over offensively and hit a three, generated another three for Harris, and the offense began to settle down. Denver then saw the best of Trey Lyles, moving off the ball, rebounding, and hitting shots all over the floor. He, Barton, and Mudiay finally hit some shots, and Denver stretched their lead to 81-70 after three quarters.

Denver came out nicely again in the fourth, led by Gary Harris. He had a nice drive to the rim off a Plumlee pass, then a spot up three from 28 feet on another Plumlee pass. A nice transition back to Jokic in the game with 9 minutes left in the quarter kept Denver’s offense rolling, and quality play for Hernangomez and Lyles contributed. Sacramento kept their offense going with Bogdan Bogdanovic splashing some triples and Kosta Koufus floaters, but the Nuggets were too much for the Kings in the fourth. An exclamation mark on the victory with this lob from the center to the point guard.

The Nuggets eventually pulled away tonight with a final score of 114-95.

Takeaways

Will Barton helped the Nuggets survive early. Will Barton sometimes operates independently from the offense and gets his own buckets, and on nights like tonight, it was incredibly important. He was the only player to truly excel in the first half at generating offense, and it allowed the Nuggets time to adjust in the second half and get the rest of the team going. He will never get enough credit because of his decision making at times, but tonight, he was essential, putting up 25 points on 15 shots.

Nikola Jokic got the Nuggets going by being aggressive. Denver looked to their young star center tonight to generate the proper looks on offense, and in the second half, he started to deliver. It began by taking some shots himself, but his aggressiveness leads to quality looks for others on a consistent basis. He only had three assists tonight, but the number of potential assists and hockey assists, combined with his 16 points and 14 rebounds, helped the Nuggets separate from the Kings.

Both Juancho Hernangomez and Trey Lyles earned more playing time tonight. Both Hernangomez and Lyles contributed on both ends tonight, combining for 19 points and 8 rebounds off the bench in their 39 minutes. It wasn’t just the box score contributions though. Both looked like they belonged out there, and each guy made smart decisions, combining for just one turnover between them. I’d like to see the Nuggets work each guy into the regular rotation, perhaps allowing the Nuggets to play a regular rotation without staggering Paul Millsap and Nikola Jokic so frequently.