Kevin Durant probably thought he was funny when he commented on Draymond Green’s instagram photo on Saturday by feigning ignorance that the Warriors had a game that night:
so...Kevin Durant was trying to clown because they are playing the Nuggets...that’s why you lost, Homie pic.twitter.com/c9WoCzdBz5— Chocolate GiddyUp (@sweet_cheri_pie) December 24, 2017
Very funny - except what KD forgot or refused to acknowledge is that the Nuggets are actually a good basketball team. And so when he and the Warriors thought they could sleepwalk to a 12th straight win, they were instead held to their worst offensive performance in years.
The Warriors shot just 11% from three (3-27) and scored just 81 points, a season low. Durant put up 18 points, but on 6-17 shooting and 0-5 from deep.
Both teams were playing on the second night of a back-to-back. Call it a flukey win if you will, but make no mistake, this is not the same Nuggets team of yester-year.
“Teams that don’t have big plans would have been happy with the win last night (in Portland),” Coach Michael Malone said following the win at Golden State. “They would have said, ‘You know what? We split. We lose at Golden State and let’s go home.’ That was never our mentality.”
Indeed, this is a Denver team that appears to be on the verge of truly breaking out. The Nuggets have improved immensely year over year, and more importantly, they are getting the job done on both ends of the floor. These Nuggets are resilient and focused. When they get knocked down, more often than not they get right back up.
Last season at Christmas, the Nuggets were 12-18 and just realizing what they had in Nikola Jokic. Denver faced an uphill battle all season to try and make the postseason and ultimately fell short. The silver lining on the year was an offensive production that was tops in the league. It came at the expense of being the league’s worst defense.
This year Denver is 18-15 at Christmas and sitting in the sixth playoff spot. Offensive production has dipped slightly, but Denver still has the 9th best offensive rating in the NBA. More importantly, on defense the Nuggets have jumped to 18th in defensive rating, a vast improvement that is being reflected in wins like last night’s. Even more impressive is that the Nuggets have been doing so largely without their best defensive player in Paul Millsap.
In Millsap’s absence (and without Jokic for seven games in December), the Nuggets have had to find themselves. Instead of rolling over, players like Trey Lyles stepped up and have now found themselves firmly in the rotation. Mason Plumlee is working to earn every penny of the huge contract he signed this offseason. Gary Harris and Jamal Murray look like a dangerous backcourt for years to come. Wilson Chandler suddenly remembered how to play basketball, and the Nuggets might have found a real diamond in the rough in Torrey Craig.
Denver still has a long way to go - there are 49 games remaining on the year - but more than any other season since 2012-2013, things are coming together for a team that is largely underrated on the national radar. Add a healthy Paul Millsap to the mix, and this team becomes a dangerous one to face on any night.
So, KD and others, keep on doubting. But this Nuggets team is here to stay.