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Recap: Nuggets fall flat against T’Wolves before All-Star break

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In Mason Plumlee’s Denver Nuggets debut, the Nuggets couldn’t generate a much needed victory.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Denver Nuggets Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

The Nuggets came out and laid an egg against the Minnesota Timberwolves tonight. The final score was 112-99, but it was much worse than the score indicated. Nikola Jokic had one of his worst games in a long time, and nobody could stop Andrew Wiggins, who posted 40 points.

Mason Plumlee was quickly called upon for the injured Nuggets. With the majority of forwards on the roster injured, the Nuggets went big with Plumlee and Nikola Jokic at the 4 and 5. The Minnesota Timberwolves started Karl-Anthony Towns and Gorgui Dieng, so the size was much needed up front.

Immediately, Plumlee won the opening tip, showcasing some nice hops, and it was interesting to see his chemistry with the starting unit already. He was clearly nervous, but he did a lot of screening, defending, and glue guy work. The T’Wolves built an early lead, but after a change in possession, the Nuggets got on a fast break to get Plumlee his first points as a Nugget.

Overall, the Pass Bros lineup (what I’m calling it right now) looked really good to start.

When Jokic came face-to-face with KAT in this game, he looked like he wanted to match him blow for blow. It led to some quick threes and questionable decisions, which isn’t Jokic’s game in the slightest. The Nuggets generated enough offense in spite of this, but the defense continued to struggle. Wiggins put up 17 points in the first quarter, and the Nuggets were down 32-31 at the first break.

Where Wiggins left off in the first quarter, Shabazz Muhammad picked up in the second quarter. He had 11 points coming off the bench before the 9 minute mark in the quarter. Guard and wing defense has clearly been a problem for this team, and it will be nice to have reinforcements back after the All-Star break. The team weathered the storm though, and as Jokic came back in, he made his presence felt on both ends, grabbing rebounds, passing, and blocking Dieng at the rim. Gary harris also made a nice play during this sequence, starting with a steal on one end and finishing with a dunk.

The Nuggets finished up the second quarter going back and forth with the T’Wolves again. Plumlee returned in the last two minutes to play with Jokic, and there were good moments and bad moments. Defensively, the Nuggets had no one to check Wiggins, and Towns got away with a lot on both ends to get to his 13 points. Both teams seesawed back and forth to a 62-60 advantage for Minnesota at halftime.

The Nuggets started out very poorly in the third quarter. There was no alpha dog on the floor, and it led to some genuinely awful possessions. When the shots were open, nobody could hit them. Michael Malone took a quick timeout and subbed in Will Barton for Juancho Hernangomez, and Barton paid him back with two quick buckets. Jokic was having his worst night offensively in a long time, and he looked incredibly frustrated. The best thing about this quarter was that the defense tightened up. Jokic eventually picked up his fourth foul and went out, and it was probably for the best, as the Nuggets needed to change things up. Jamal Murray made a couple of baskets, but the biggest story was the Nuggets’ complete inability to check Andrew Wiggins. He had 33 points after three quarters, and the Nuggets were down 85-79 going into the fourth.

And the fourth quarter at the beginning was a certifiable nightmare. Missed dunks, missed layups, poor decisions, crappy defense, all contributed to a timeout at the beginning of the quarter with the Nuggets now down 11.

At the 8:51 mark in the fourth, Jokic came back in with a purpose, playing great defense on Towns for two straight possessions. Gary Harris came to life on the other end, hitting threes on the following two possessions. Jokic got dunked on by Wiggins due to shoddy perimeter work, and it just clearly wasn’t Denver’s night after that. There was no defense played, no help given by the officials (Marc Davis), and Jokic had an off night. Combine that with the missing bodies, and it just didn’t work out. The Nuggets eventually lost this one, but not before Jokic let the officials have it and receive a technical. Denver eventually lost this one 112-99.

Keys to the game:

  • Mason Plumlee looked right at home in his first game as a Denver Nugget. Even in the starting lineup, he did some great things as a complementary player that allowed guys like Jameer Nelson and Gary Harris to play very well. He had a Jokic-like backdoor pass on the baseline, and his screens consistently generated open pathways to the basket for the guard. As a solid screener, passer, rebounder, and scorer around the rim, Plumlee looks like a great find by Tim Connelly and Michael Malone.
  • Those same guards, Jameer Nelson, Gary Harris, and even Jamal Murray to an extent, had some open looks that they converted in the lane and on the perimeter. It will be interesting to see how Emmanuel Mudiay does with a solid screener in Plumlee, as Mudiay’s midrange jumper could open up some looks all around the floor.
  • The offense did bog down in the third quarter a bit, but with everyone playing a weird role right now offensively due to injuries, it’s understandable. Jokic was clearly off of his game though, which is interesting after having three amazing performances. Maybe he was due?
  • Let’s just get the injured guys back as soon as possible. The MASH unit has performed admirably, but this team won’t make the playoffs with it. Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried, Wilson Chandler, Darrell Arthur, Emmanuel Mudiay. That’s a lot of bodies. Let’s get them back and make a run.
  • Marc Davis is awful.