Happy weekend Nuggets fans!
Now that preseason is in full swing, I’d like to introduce my new weekly column that will post each weekend on the Denver Stiffs web page. The purpose of this column will be to discuss a few of the week’s highlights and offer a couple of key takeaways as the Nuggets make their way through the 2018-2019 NBA season.
If each week is as exciting as this one (and I’m hoping they will be), there will be MANY highlights to discuss. I’m going to pick just a few of my favorites but I may leave off some of your top picks. My choices certainly aren’t the gospel of Nuggets highlights so feel free to leave a comment discussing your favorite moments so we can keep the conversation going!
Now that we’ve laid the ground rules, let’s talk about some of the exciting Nuggets moments from this week.
Nuggets defeat the Lakers TWICE in the matchup of the Joker and the King
When a team loses in preseason, you’ll typically hear discussions about why those games don’t count or excuses about how the losing team didn’t really intend to win anyway. I’m no professional athlete, but in my world, all the games count. No, the games don’t actually impact the regular season record, but any professional level competition matters on some level.
For the Nuggets, the first two preseason wins over the Lakers are accomplishments for many reasons. First, we all know that their main goal this season is to capture a playoff slot, and starting preseason strong will set a competitive standard for them to work toward each game. They’ve seen what they’re capable of, they’ve had time to grow into their skills, and now they can execute.
Next, as a team in playoff pursuit, they’ll need the strong support of their fans to make it through the grueling 82 game schedule. Preseason or not, you can’t tell me Nuggets Nation isn’t totally fired up about beating LeBron James in his purple and gold debut! What makes it even sweeter is that our main man Nikola Jokic played well in the first game and had an incredible game 2 with 20 points on 7 out of 10 from the field. The excitement is already tangible, and with a few more wins on the books, the team’s momentum will build through the support of their fans.
Lastly, it’s absolutely crucial that the Nuggets send a message that they’re taking things seriously this year. This message is not only important for their competitors but for themselves as well. Kicking things off with a mentality that this game or that game doesn’t matter turns into mental slack, which ultimately leads to inconsistency. As we learned last year, one game could make or break a playoff appearance so it’s never too early to get focused.
Juancho is back!
I was so disappointed when Juancho Hernangomez fell ill with mono last season. His late-season performance in 2017 was impressive and I was starting to see him as a viable option for the Nuggets’ prime rotation. He was fairly consistent for his age, and proving trustworthy in sticky situations where the Nuggets needed a guy they could count on.
The down-time last year certainly wasn’t ideal for Juancho’s career path, but I was happy to see him step up and perform in Sunday’s win. If you didn’t catch his line, he was the leading scorer for the Nuggets with 19 points at 54.5% from the field and 62.5% from three. He turned the ball over a few times, but I’ll chalk that up to being rusty and give him major credit for a great game.
Although Tuesday’s game was a flop, I’m glad Juancho has recovered from mono and I look forward to seeing him get his game legs back.
Barton hit a buzzer beater
Heading into halftime of Tuesday’s game, the Nuggets were down by 14 points with possession of the ball and 2.5 seconds left in the quarter. Paul Millsap threw a pass fit for an NFL game into Jokic who handed it off to Will Barton for the three point shot. I cringed when I saw Jokic trust Barton with that play, but Barton didn’t have enough time to overthink and let his skill take over.
Barton is an incredible role player for the Nuggets, and from what I can tell, an even better guy to have locker room so his value to the team shouldn’t be overlooked. However, I grew extremely frustrated with him last season when he missed multiple clutch shots in a row (in multiple games) without passing the ball. I’ll admit that there were also plenty of moments that Barton saved the day for Denver so I want to balance my reluctance, but I hope to see him keep a better grasp on when his shots just aren’t falling.
So far this season, things are looking good for Will the Thrill as he takes a starting role in Denver.
Defense is still a variable
One of the things you don’t see a ton of in the preseason is defense. I can’t say that I blame players for not putting the defensive petal to the metal right now, but it’s going to come into play very soon. The Nuggets played decent on defense this week, and two solid wins in a row means they definitely did something right, but as the season gets underway I hope to see them consistently improve their defensive focus.
Facing teams like the Golden State Warriors and the Boston Celtics, Denver will need all the defense they can muster. With Millsap back in the lineup, and players like Torrey Craig in the rotation, I’m hopeful we will see more strength on this end of the court.
It’s going to be a really fun season
The Nuggets have been on the brink of success for a few years, and the angst from both the players and fans has built to a tipping point. If the Nuggets blow it this season they could alienate a lot of their fan base, but based on what I saw this week, I don’t think that’s going to happen. The young core has had enough time in the NBA, and with one another to be ready to take the next step. Watching their debut, I believe they’ll make it.
For right now, I don’t want to focus too heavily on the outcome of the season. I’m looking forward to taking it one game at a time and enjoying the journey. This will be a good season to be a Nuggets fan.