What a week it’s been for the Denver Nuggets who still hold the second slot in the Western Conference behind the Golden State Warriors. They went 2-1 in this week’s game lineup, proving me very wrong in their performance against Utah. As I mentioned last week, I wanted them to prove me wrong in that game, and I’m glad they did.
Nugg life continues to be good in Denver with no signs of slowing down any time soon
So let’s dive right in! Here are a few of my most notable moments of the week.
Plumlee for three!
After the Nuggets pulled off a late game win over the Utah Jazz, I tweeted out that there were two things I never expected to see this NBA season. First, I never expected to be talking about how the Nuggets are using defense as their primary method of winning games, and second I NEVER expected to see Mason Plumlee take (and make) a clutch three point shot. I’m certainly not complaining, but I remain surprised nonetheless.
Plumlee’s drill from distance with just over 8 minutes to play in the 4th quarter marked a pivotal point in the Utah Jazz game. The Nuggets had begun to take control, and Plumlee’s three pointer was fueled by the momentum the team was generating. From then on out, the Nuggets buckled down and rode that momentum all the way to a 15 point win after the Jazz led by as much as 9 late in the third quarter.
Looking at this scenario gets me hyped about the rest of the season. Instead of letting that 9 point 3rd quarter lead turn into a 20+ point blow out loss, Denver refused to give in to defeat, and regained control of the game which generated momentum for the team to feed off of to push through to a win. It’s exactly this skill that will keep them going in a playoff match up, and they seem to be relying on it somewhat intuitively.
Jamal Murray goes bananas
I don’t know about you, but I’m comforted by the fact that when I go to spell the word “bananas”, Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl” is there to get me through.
Pop culture references aside, Jamal Murray played lights-out against the Celtics (arguably the best team in the Eastern Conference) this week, catapulting the Nuggets on to an 8 point victory. Murray brought in a whopping 48 points in his 38 minutes, and as the final moments of the game ticked by he just couldn’t miss.
It was Murray’s offensive fire that kept the team going late in that game, and while it could be any player who gets hot from night to night, it’s important for a team to know just who their main go-to guy is. Previously, the Nuggets roster has relied on Nikola Jokic to take those shots, but lately he seems to be hesitant to do to. He’s stated in the past that he would rather set up a teammate to take that shot rather than take it on his own, but as the leader of the team that seems somewhat counter-intuitive.
Regardless, the Jokic-facilitated free-flowing offense works, and identifying Murray as the one to step up and take the important game-altering shots will help the offense be focused in key moments.
I see this game from Murray as a pivotal progression in the development of the Nuggets’ identity, and also a sign that the offensive awkwardness may be working itself out. We all know Gary Harris can be relied upon to take a tough shot at almost any moment, but Murray is well-suited to serve the role as THE guy to go to. I believe that template will provide some centeredness, and organization to play-making as the Nuggets make their way through the season.
Playoff atmosphere on the regular
The best way to overcome a weakness is to practice perfecting it until it becomes a strength. I don’t know if that’s an official quote from anyone in particular, but in business I’ve heard this expressions often.
Look, we all have weaknesses. No, I’m not referring to the “weakness” (that’s actually a strength) that we tell potential employers in a job interview, but actual weaknesses that rear their ugly head in an attempt to threaten our happiness and success.
For the Nuggets last season, there were many. Too many. But, one in particular seemed a mountain too high to climb. It appeared as though they just weren’t a playoff team. From inconsistency, to poor defense, to giving up in the 3rd quarter, the Nuggets showed to be a group of players that wouldn’t be able to cut it among the upper-echelons of competition in the league.
Now everything has changed. So far this season, the Nuggets have done an about-face, and they’re showing up to compete in tough, neck-and-neck games night in and night out (hideous Memphis Grizzlies game aside).
Denver is now becoming known as a 4th quarter team, developing an ability to come back from a deficit and pull off a win—consistently. This season’s games regularly have a playoff vibe, and I attribute that to the Nuggets bringing playoff-level competition to each match up.
If they can continue to practice playoff-level competitiveness for the duration of the season, their actual playoff games will seem less daunting putting them in a much better position to succeed in the long haul.
Juancho needs to start
I haven’t yet grown tired of featuring Juancho Hernangomez in my weekly column, and it seems that he’s not growing tired of becoming more and more valuable for the Nuggets every day. Perhaps Juancho isn’t bringing in 20+ points per game, but he is regularly contributing game-altering plays that come at just the right moments.
Right now, he’s proving valuable in providing a jolt to the Nuggets’ offense when they’re struggling. Against Boston, he had two 3rd quarter three point shots that kept Denver within arm’s reach of a lead, and in the 4th quarter a timely 3 point shot combined with a needed rebound and put back for 2 points helped keep Denver in the game.
He’s s skilled rebounder, and shot maker while also having the size to handle business under the rim. Instead of him coming in to rescue the offense off the bench, why shouldn’t he start so they don’t need rescuing in the first place? In Will Barton’s absence, Juancho has earned a starting role. Perhaps that could be the catalyst to help get the Nuggets’ offense flowing a little better.
Nuggets basketball is fun again
Okay, maybe it wasn’t ever NOT fun, but it certainly wasn’t AS fun as it is now. Teams will go through their highs and lows, but it feels like Nuggets Nation went through some seriously low points these last few seasons, and well, it was depressing.
This year, the sun is shining bright on the organization, and getting out to Pepsi Center for a game brings a lot more enjoyment than it did last year. I hope the fun continues!