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Mile Highs and Lows: A Recap of the Denver Nuggets in October

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The first installment of the monthly column in which I dive into the highs and lows of each month of the 2018-19 Denver Nuggets season

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

This season at Denver Stiffs, I will be introducing a new monthly column in which I outline the highs (and inevitably the lows) of the past month for the Denver Nuggets in the form of different categories. This will hopefully give us the opportunity to look back and reflect on how the Nuggets performed that month, as well as relive some of the most exciting moments that occurred. There was certainly no shortage of highlights and storylines for the first month of the season, so without further ado, here is a recap of October.

Record in October: 6-1 Overall record: 6-1

Game of the Month: Denver Nuggets vs. Golden State Warriors (10/21/2018)

This one is easy. The Warriors are the best team the Nuggets have faced so far this season (the best team they will face the entire season) and the Nuggets actually won! Despite missing 18 free throws and barely shooting over 40% from the field, the Nuggets were able to squeeze out a win against the best NBA team in recent history.

They did so behind great outings from Gary Harris and Nikola Jokic to help stem the tide once Stephen Curry started doing Curry things. And in the last possession of the game, with the Nuggets hanging on to a 100-98 lead over the Warriors and Curry attacking the rim, it looked like the Nuggets were about to lose a heartbreaker. Juancho Hernangomez saved the game, however, by getting a game winning block against Damian Jones. Considering how well the Warriors have played so far this season and the fact that it may be a while before they lose again, this was a win the Nuggets should feel proud of.

Highlight of the Month: Paul Millsap gets the game winner against the Chicago Bulls

I thought Juancho’s block would take the cake for this category, but Millsap decided to end the month of October in a thrilling way. The Nuggets played an ugly game against the Bulls and in the split second after Jokic missed a jumper when the team was down 1 with just over 3 seconds left, it looked like they would get their first bad loss of the season.

That’s when Millsap decided to step in.

He snatched the offensive rebound and threw the ball up, hitting the game winning shot and leaving only .1 seconds left on the clock for the Bulls. The timing of this play is what’s most impressive. He caught the ball and while he was still in the air, threw it up at the rim because he knew there wasn’t enough time to come back down. This would have been a bad loss had the Bulls come away with the game, so that was an extremely clutch play by Millsap.

Player of the month: Gary Harris

Gary Harris has been the most consistent player for the Nuggets so far this season on both ends of the court. He is averaging 19.4 points a game, to go along with 4 rebounds, and 1.1 steals. It is becoming more and more clear with each passing game that Harris is one of the best shooting guards and two-way players in the league. This wasn’t any more evident than against the New Orleans Pelicans on Monday night. In a close game, Harris came away with two steals in the last five minutes and made big plays on the offensive end.

What really sticks out from his early statistical averages is the fact that he’s only shooting 28.1 percent from the three-point line. As Nuggets fans know, this is far below his capabilities. However, he’s still managing to dominate on the offensive end with his drives to the rim. When his shot does start to fall, the NBA better watch out. Harris is a huge reason why the Nuggets have gotten off to a 6-1 start this season.

Story of the Month: Will Barton’s injury

Barton’s injury is really the only major bummer of the season so far for the Nuggets. Injuries are always a bad thing, but seeing Barton go down in the second game of the season with a hip injury after just signing a big contract was pretty heartbreaking. Hearing that he underwent a successful surgery and will be re-evaluated in six weeks was a sigh of relief for fans, as most of us feared the worst after seeing the amount of pain that he was in after suffering the injury.

However, it’s painfully obvious that the Nuggets miss Barton in the starting lineup, as they just have not been able to find a rhythm offensively. Barton provides a needed presence as a ball handler and playmaker, and his absence is definitely affecting the Nuggets’ success on that end.

Surprise of the month: The Nuggets are a good defensive team?

So without Barton, and with Jamal Murray and Harris struggling from long distance, and Millsap struggling from everywhere on the court, how on Earth have the Nuggets won 6 of their first 7 games? One word. Defense. That’s right. The Nuggets are actually winning more games because of their defense right now than because of their offense.

They currently rank fourth in the league in defensive rating (101.9). They are extremely improved on that end of the floor. The team just seems to be giving more effort defensively, as they are doing a much better job with their transition defense, their ability to get their hands in passing lanes, and simply making things tough on the ball handler and shooter. They still have a ways to go to being a legitimate defensive team though. For example, the Nuggets allowed 16 threes against the Bulls last night, which was a bit of a flashback to last season.

Overall, though, the fact that the Nuggets are surviving the offensive woes that they are having is truly a testament to their defense. And that sentence is definitely not one I thought I would write about the Nuggets this month.

Grade for the month: A-

What’s new on Denver Stiffs:

To end this column, each month I will share a few of the different articles/projects that the Stiffs put out. There was a lot to choose from for October, but here is just some of the new content that we have going on:

Will Barton podcast documentary

Stiffs’ own Adam Mares wonderfully captures Barton’s journey from a young basketball player growing up in Maryland to his arrival in the NBA and eventually a role player with the Nuggets. Since we won’t see him back on the court for at least another month, get your Thrill fix by listening to this documentary style podcast.

Mike Olson’s Interview with Denver Nuggets analyst Katy Winge

Mike chats with Katy on becoming the first female analyst for Altitude and her transition from playing the game of basketball to her role for the Nuggets as an analyst. Check out part 1 here. And part 2 here.

Denver Stiffs Podcast Network

We are bringing you a lot of new content this season, starting with the introduction of the Denver Stiffs Podcast Network. This will give fans the opportunity to get a ton of interesting and new perspectives on their favorite team.