Well, what a week it’s been for the Denver Nuggets.
It’s great to be back after taking a week off to travel to New York City with some friends to take in the magic of the Big Apple at Christmastime. My trip was non-stop mayhem from dawn until dusk every single day, and I was even able to travel to Madison Square Garden to see two of the worst teams in the league match-up against one another.
While the New York Knicks vs the Phoenix Suns was about as exciting as the Broncos vs literally anyone’s high school team at the moment, I did get to enjoy the Garden and all the excitement it had to offer. Nestled in the heart of the city, celebrities of all kinds decorated the front row, and the dimmed lights over the audience gave the game the air of a Broadway show. Well, it was no Phantom of the Opera, and I caught myself missing the excitement of my Denver Nuggets greatly.
Unfortunately, I had to come back to a pretty smelly week for the good guys, but I’m hoping they brush themselves off now that Paul Millsap and Gary Harris look to be coming back very soon.
Let’s chat about some of the notable moments of the week.
Jokic tallies an ejection in Los Angeles
While I hail Jokic as the Nuggets’ leader, I wasn’t super impressed by what I saw from him against the Clippers this week as it reminded me a little too much of (dare I say it) Jusuf Nurkic. It’s no secret that the league’s officiating doesn’t always swing in the Nuggets’ direction, yet it continues to be a surprise for our young star.
I agree that there were some pretty questionable calls as there always are, but the griping and complaining from Jokic after what seemed to be every single call the referees made gets old. So old, in fact, that the refs issued Jokic a technical for it in an effort to get him to pipe down. As I like to say, no one in the history of calming down has ever calmed down from being told to calm down, and the penalty had Jokic even more fired up resulting in his ejection from the game. The Clippers went on to hand the Nuggets a 21-point blowout, and their worst loss of the season.
While I can understand Jokic’s frustration completely, I’d like to see him be more of a leader in these moments. No, it’s not fair. Yes, it’s infuriating. But, whining about it won’t change anything so I’d rather him suck it up and work to keep the unit focused as opposed to rendering himself unavailable for his teammates.
A couple of strategically-placed criticisms to the refs would probably be much more powerful than incessant complaining, but that’s only my opinion.
The Nuggets vs Coach Gregg Popovich
There isn’t a coach in sports history that I have more respect for than Spurs’ Head Coach Gregg Popovich. He’s a bit of a Grinch to media personnel, but his coaching genius over the decades is truly a work of art.
What I like most about his style is the pure and simple form it takes. The most intelligent people make simple the things that others unnecessarily complicate, and Pop has shown us that fundamentals win out over glamour any day.
Heading into his match-up with the Nuggets, Pop employed a defensive strategy that all but capsized the Nuggets’ offense leaving Jokic to rely on his teammates to get the job done. While Juancho Hernangomez and Malik Beasley did the heavy lifting, the remainder of the team including Jamal Murray couldn’t make their shots fall even though Jokic worked overtime to move the ball.
While the Nuggets fought, Pop’s strategy ultimately won out and the Nuggets continue to struggle to win games in San Antonio.
As Jokic’s star gets brighter, the Nuggets will need to work out ways to strategize around the teams who defend him aggressively. While I will concede that Murray’s game was the pits, and the Nuggets may have had a better chance if he had played better, they need to work to diversify their offensive strategy options if they plan to make a dent in the post-season.
The silver lining:
Juanchooooooo and Beasley
It’s pretty tough not to like these guys a whole lot. Coach Mike Malone calls on them when he needs them, and that need depends on who is injured, and who they need to fill in for. Rather than pouting about not getting minutes, they can always be counted on to come in with a strong work ethic and an eye toward winning. I’m loving the maturity, fellas.
Against San Antonio, Juancho and Beasley were the only thing keeping the Nuggets from hemorrhaging too badly. Juancho’s cuts for Jokic as Jokic struggled to keep the ball moving was the spark that kept working to ignite the Nuggets’ offense, and while it couldn’t overcome the Spurs’ momentum, that kind of effort is what will be important in playoff games that are just around the corner.
As the Nuggets work their way toward the post-season, it’s guys like these that can jump start a struggling offense or maintain while the starting lineup needs a rest that are the key difference-makers in the ultra-competitive Western Conference.
Having Juancho and Beasley on our side makes me hopeful for the unit as a whole when Millsap, Harris, and Will Barton come back.
The Nuggets still ride high among the top of the Western Conference standings, so one week won’t spoil the season. Hopefully the Nuggets take these L’s and rebound to start off the New Year right.