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Recap: Jokic wasn’t healthy, but the Nuggets won behind Ill Will’s sick game

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In a must-win game with Nikola Jokic out, the Nuggets made it work in a 108-96 victory against the Kings.

NBA: Sacramento Kings at Denver Nuggets Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Holy cow, Wilson Chandler. If you wanted to send a message after last game, message received. The Denver Nuggets won against the Sacramento Kings 108-96 on Wilson Chandler’s career high 36 points. Danilo Gallinari added 18, while Gary Harris chipped in an easy 15 points, but the big story was Chandler.

The Nuggets received some bad news before the game. Nikola Jokic was out with an illness, and in his place, Mason Plumlee was asked to start at center. Kenneth Faried, also out, left the Nuggets without their full assortment of front court talent.

Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler started out hot from the perimeter. The two combined for three triples to begin the game and helped the Nuggets get out to a 17-14 lead midway through the first quarter. The defensive activity was good, but Kosta Koufus’ floater in the lane hurt the Nuggets big time, as it did last game. Chandler continued to play well, accumulating 13 of the Nuggets’ first 22 points and playing solid defense. It was good to see Chandler play with aggression with all of the dramatics the last few days. He hit another three to help the Nuggets to a 25-24 advantage after the 1st quarter.

At this point, the Nuggets might need Chandler to reach a career high if they want to win.

The Nuggets started the second quarter with a Gallinari And-1 and a Darrell Arthur three. Will Barton did not start the quarter strongly, picking up three fouls and quickly going back to the bench in favor of Chandler. Denver went with an interesting lineup of Jamal Murray-Juancho Hernangomez-Gallo-Chandler-Arthur, and it worked nicely. The Nuggets built a lead with attacking the basket and getting to the free throw line, something they need to do in a 5-out offense. The defense did a nice job of keeping the Kings out of the paint, forcing more difficult looks.

The lead ballooned up to 48-36 after a transition three from Gary Harris, but the Kings quickly put up seven unanswered to stay within striking distance. Denver continued to put pressure on though, as Mason Plumlee made his presence felt in his rolls to the rim. One thing about Plumlee, he fluctuates between being the right amount of aggressive and not aggressive at all, somethings passing out of open shots at the rim when the latter occurs. The teams traded baskets until the Kings made the last shot of the half, cutting the Nuggets lead to 57-50.

The star at this point was Chandler with 21 points on just 12 field goal attempts. At the half, the only major issue with this game was the bench production, with only 10 points. Murray and Barton were each held scoreless.

The second half started with a Gallinari three, a miss on the other end, and Gallinari free throws, ballooning the lead to 12. The teams went back and forth for awhile before the Nuggets clamped down on defense. Denver went on a 17-8 run to start the third quarter, pushing the lead to 74-58. Part of the cause for chaos is how the Nuggets hedge more with Plumlee in the game than they do Jokic.

This is just a fundamental change due to Jokic’s lack of agility, but not necessarily a bad thing for Jokic and the Nuggets long term.

Chandler continued his aggressiveness into this portion of the second half, hitting a rhythm three after a Plumlee drive and dish. He also hit a dunk off of a Nelson backdoor pass, showing the motion the Nuggets can have when they play in the open floor. Chandler set his season high at the end of the third quarter, and the Nuggets led 90-73 after three quarters.

The fourth quarter started with some sloppy play, but Denver eventually ran the lead up to 20 points in the early fourth. The game slowed down exponentially after that, with the two teams racing to make a brick house. The Nuggets scored just six points from the 9:41 mark to the 0:33 mark, almost all to do with the terrible shots Murray, Barton, and Chandler were generating. With that being said, Chandler did make his career high on a last minute three pointer. The Nuggets eventually won 108-96.

Three Takeaways

Wilson Chandler came to play, and he played angry

I have to hand it to Wilson Chandler. Two days after word came out of the locker room that he didn’t want to be here, Chandler came out and absolutely balled out. His efficiency was great and his aggressiveness at just the right touch. Chandler finished with 36 points on 13/23 shooting, and all of them were needed tonight.

The Nuggets need to reshuffle their bench

The Nuggets bench finished the game with 23 points on 8/23 shooting. The problems have been consistent throughout the last few weeks, as for whatever reason, a strength for the Nuggets has quickly become a weakness. Yes, Kenneth Faried and Jokic sat this one out, but the Nuggets can’t have Will Barton and Darrell Arthur combine to go 5/17 against a poor Kings bench. That’s inexcusable.

Mason Plumlee struggled to replace Nikola Jokic

There really is no replacing Jokic in the Nuggets’ offense, but Mase was tasked with the starting center role, and he was up and down. On one hand, he rebounded well and distributed from the center position, but scoring tonight was not a strength of his, and he turned the ball over six times. It’s good to have Plumlee’s skills on the bench, as they are clearly useful for this Nuggets team, but it will be better used in spot minutes for the foreseeable future.