The Denver Nuggets entered Friday night’s match-up with the Orlando Magic in desperate need of win. After starting their six-game road trip with two blowout losses the Nuggets were in desperate need of a spark. It didn’t matter who it was but someone had to step up and take control of a game on the road and help the Nuggets break out of a road slump.
Friday night, that person was Emmanuel Mudiay.
Mudiay had what might’ve been his best game of the season, displaying excellent patience in the half court while still hunting for opportunities to attack and put pressure on the defense. He finished with 18 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists and most important of all, just 2 turnovers. Mudiay and the bench dominated the Magic bench, outscoring them 53-16 en route to a 103-89 win on the road.
When Mudiay is good, he’s really good
One of the things that makes Mudiay such a frustrating prospect is that, despite the fact that he’s struggled with many of the same issues since entering the league in 2015, he has games like tonight where he looks like the best player on the court. Few players that have struggled as mightily as Mudiay in the early part of their careers have highs that reach as highly as his and tonight was a great example of what kind of player he could be.
He got to the rim and finished at will, especially down the stretch when the Nuggets made their big run. He knocked down a pair of three-point shots that looked good from the moment they left his hands. He picked his spots really well and attacked when he saw an opening and remained patient when the moment called for it. With Jamal Murray struggling before going down with what appeared to be a minor ankle tweak, the Nuggets desperately needed an A+ effort from Mudiay. They got that and it was by far the most fun part of the game.
Malik Beasley looks like a player
Beasley’s 28 minutes were the most he’s played in a game this season. He eclipsed that mark twice at the end of last season but this was the most he’s played in games that actually mattered and boy did he step up. The 12 points on 5-9 shooting was impressive but Beasley’s energy level and confidence was something to behold. It was the type of game that made you wish there were more consistent opportunities for him on the roster but if nothing else, it provided a glimpse of what he might look like in the years to come.
Plumlee started, Faried finished
One of the interesting moves head coach Michael Malone made entering this game was starting Will Barton at small forward and Wilson Chandler at power forward, a move that paired Mason Plumlee with Jamal Murray and Kenneth Faried with Emmanuel Mudiay. That appears to be a move that worked out great. The Nuggets played 48 minutes of small ball and while the starting unit look rough to start, the team found a nice rhythm in the final three quarters of the game and the rotation appeared to work out nicely. It’ll be really interesting to see if Malone continues to stick with 48 minutes of small ball for the rest of this road trip. If the Nuggets bench continues to look as good as they did tonight, Malone will have an even more interesting decision to make whenever Nikola Jokic gets back on the floor.
This was a feel-good win for the Nuggets. It helped that the Altitude broadcast crew showed video of Jokic jogging through layup lines, hinting that the big fella is making progress on his injured ankle. The team is saying that he is still questionable at best to return at any point of this road trip but at least he is mobile and looking to be on track to return within days and not weeks or months.