The Denver Nuggets had a good week over the Thanksgiving holiday just when they really needed a good week. In the midst of a bit of a plummet, Denver seemed to catch their groove once more to beat a that can prove to be tough to win against.
The good guys have popped back up to 3rd place in the West as they prepare to buckle down and take on the Lakers tomorrow night.
Facing LeBron James and his budding team will be the first game of what could prove to be a tough three games ahead so we will see how the Nuggets fare.
For now, let’s look back on last week and review a few of the top moments.
Jokic is engaged again
Nikola Jokic can be counted on to bring in a solid line night in and night out, but whether or not he has his head in the game seems to wax and wane. Jokic appears to be a highly emotional player, which typically results in wins in the good times, and losses during the not so good times.
I can’t say that I blame the Nuggets’ recent losing stint entirely on Jokic because that’s unfair, but I do believe the Nuggets win a LOT more often when he’s engaged and intent on winning. In the Nuggets’ win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, Jokic posted only 7 points, but he brought in 10 assists and 12 rebounds. In the blowout against the Orlando Magic, he tallied just 6 points, while bringing in 11 assists and 10 rebounds.
What these two games show me is that Jokic was actively looking to make plays for his teammates, as opposed to simply working to score on his own. The Nuggets’ offense belongs to Jokic so in order for them to flow, Jokic needs to find a way to be mentally present on a consistent basis.
Murray steps up in a big moment
One of my favorite things to watch in the NBA is who steps up against big players, and big teams. While the Oklahoma City Thunder aren’t anything the Nuggets can’t handle, Russell Westbrook knows how to win. He’s an All-Star and a record-breaker, and he can’t ever be counted out in a game until the final buzzer sounds.
I used to not be a big fan of Westbrook because I found his attitude off-putting and unsportsmanlike. But, after watching him choose to remain committed to the Thunder upon Kevin Durant’s departure, I couldn’t help but renew my respect for him as a professional.
Although significantly more congenial, I view Murray as a young Westbrook in a way. This season we’ve seen him step-up and push the Nuggets toward a win in some key moments—a lot like what Westbrook can be counted on to do for his team. Murray brought in 22 points, 8 assists, and 8 rebounds in the Nuggets’ win over OKC, and he led his team to capture and maintain control the entire game.
What I specifically like about this step-up trait in Murray, is that it’s usually the really big name teams and players who get him hyper-focused. The Nuggets need someone like Murray who is going to elevate the team when they need to level up to face the more competitive teams in the league. As he continues to develop, I will be interested to see how Murray can hone this skill to be clutch for the Nuggets in time for the playoffs.
Depth to do the distance
In the Nuggets’ win over the Magic, the bench saw some valuable minutes leaving me very confident in their abilities to sustain the team long term. Trey Lyles led the Nuggets’ scoring with 22 points with Mason Plumlee not far behind with 15 and a no-look pass that had me ALMOST as excited as his recent three-point shot.
HOW— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) November 24, 2018
The bench is playing efficient on both ends of the court, leading with defense when shots aren’t falling to maintain. This is exactly the type of play the Nuggets need as they work their way through the year. Things around the league will undoubtedly kick into high gear after Christmas, so the Nuggets have just a few more weeks to lock in in order to stay competitive through the end of the season.
Jokic and Murray continue to hone their synergy as Adam Mares discusses in this podcast, and I see this as a very exciting development for the team.
As I mentioned earlier, the Nuggets’ offense belongs to Jokic, but it seems that he doesn’t always want to shoulder that burden. Perhaps, as he and Murray develop the team’s identity, they can share this task and transfer the baton of effort when need be.
Who says this needs to be ONE person’s team? Much like the 2012-2013 Golden State Warriors (who the Nuggets currently remind me of), the leadership baton balanced nicely between Draymond Green and Stephen Curry. I see Jokic and Murray blending well to form a complete leadership focal point as the season progresses.