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

The Nuggets had every excuse to falter this month, but injuries could not keep the team from remaining at the top of the conference after the month of December.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Phoenix Suns Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

December for the Denver Nuggets had the potential to be a disaster. After starting the month already down Will Barton, the injury story only got worse (more on that later). However, despite playing most of the month without three starters and having some tough opponents and a total of seven games on the road, the Nuggets still managed to notch a winning record in the month of December and remain atop the Western Conference standings. Here’s a recap of the month:

Record in December: 8-4

Overall record: 23-11

Game of the Month: Denver Nuggets vs. Toronto Raptors (12/3/2018)

The first game of the month proved to be a highly entertaining one, as the Nuggets, at this point the top team in the standings in the Western Conference, faced off against the Toronto Raptors, the team at the top in the East. Gary Harris went down with a hip injury midway through the match, which not only threatened the Nuggets’ chances at winning this game but also concerned fans that he may be out for an extended period of time. The Nuggets were able to come away with the win, however, thanks to a monster performance from Nikola Jokic, who put up 23 points, 15 rebounds and 11 assists. Down two starters, the Nuggets came up with huge plays, including clutch threes by Juancho Hernangomez and Malik Beasley. And when the game was tied with 7 seconds to go, Serge Ibaka committed a foul on Jokic before the inbounds pass to essentially seal the game for the road team (106-103). This was a gutsy win for the Nuggets and it ended up being just one of many for the team in the month of December.

Highlight of the Month:

There were a ton of highlights this month, but I’ll pick the one that perfectly encapsulates how the Nuggets have been so successful recently. Against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Mason Plumlee had a great block against Dennis Schroder that led to a beautiful save by Monte Morris, leading to great ball movement on the other end that resulted in a dunk from Trey Lyles on the fast break. Team basketball is how the Nuggets have managed to pull these games out. The Nuggets are not only winning games, but they’re back to doing so in a fun way.

Player of the month: Nikola Jokic

The biggest reason why the Nuggets were able to win so many games this month despite the injuries is the Joker himself. It’s been really cool seeing Jokic take the team’s offense into his own hands in so many of these games. In the month of December, he averaged 20.9 points, 10.1 rebounds and 7.9 assists. Jokic continues to make everyone around him better, which is exactly what he needed to do considering all of the injuries. He has put the team on his back this month and is solidifying his case to be Denver’s first all-star since Carmelo Anthony in 2011.

Story of the Month: The Nuggets are starting to get respect

The Nuggets have come out of the gate incredibly strong in the first few months of the season, but as is usually the case, it’s taken some time for the team to enter the conversation among the national media. That seems to have changed this month, however, as Charles Barkley, Jalen Rose, and Stephen A. Smith have all expressed high opinions of the team. While still not everybody is convinced that the Nuggets can actually make a deep run into the playoffs this season, I would say that the general consensus is that the Nuggets are a team that will contend for a championship in the near-ish future. And that’s still a pretty cool thing.

Surprise of the month: The Nuggets were successful despite being bitten by the injury bug

The Nuggets started the month already down a starter in Barton. Still, many thought that December would be the month that the team finally got healthy, as Isaiah Thomas and Barton were both expected to make their returns. Not only did that not happen, but the injury bug bit two more Nuggets players, Harris and Paul Millsap. Harris went down with a hip injury in the first game of the month and Millsap followed with a broken toe. This meant that for most of the month, the Nuggets were without three (THREE) starters.

Not only were they able to stay afloat, they ended the month the same way they started it - at the top of the standings in the West. They even went 4-0 during a home stretch that included games against the Dallas Mavericks and Oklahoma City Thunder. This is a truly incredible feat, and one that the entire team and coaching staff should take credit for. Jokic and Jamal Murray were the anchors for the team on the offensive end, but it’s the performance from the bench (turned starters) that really made the difference. Beasley, Hernangomez, Torrey Craig, Plumlee...every player was needed and the next-man-up mentality really came into effect for the Nuggets this month.

Grade for the month: A

What’s new on Denver Stiffs:

December was not only a great month for the home team, but it was also a great month for their SB Nation blog. We honored our MVP, Nikola Jokic, with our first Theme Week of the season. From December 10th through December 15th, the content on the Stiffs was Jokic-themed. This included an article that highlighted Jokic’s top five performances, a column that looked back on why December 15th became such an important date for this Nuggets team, multiple roundtables centered on the star center, and, perhaps the coolest feature of all, a tournament-style bracket in which fans got to pick the best Joker highlight. All of this and so much more is still available for consumption. Check out the full thread here and stay tuned to the Stiffs website for more theme weeks.

Also, what better way to look back at 2018 than a column highlighting the pieces that we’re most proud of at the Denver Stiffs?