The Denver Nuggets look to be fully past the big loss to the Golden State Warriors earlier in the week. After blowing out the Chicago Bulls on Thursday, Denver followed it up with a 124-102 thrashing of the Cleveland Cavaliers to close out their four game homestand 3-1. Nikola Jokic needed just three quarters to get a triple double and Jamal Murray once again was red hot from the floor. Cleveland got solid performances from Cedi Osman and Ante Zizic but the Nuggets were too much to handle and win this one going away.
The Nuggets opened the game by letting the Cavs get some decent looks and fast break points but they hung with Cleveland. The Nuggets were giving up too many turnovers and too many easy baskets near the rim. On the positive side Malik Beasley was hitting his threes but Osman was scoring for Cleveland. Denver’s defense wasn’t offering much resistance to dribble penetration so the Cavs continued to get inside for points. Jokic responded with a pair of threes and with five minutes to go the game was tied at twenty. Cleveland struggled with Joker’s size and coach Malone doubled down by inserting Mason Plumlee to go with the twin tower line up. Behind Jokic the Nuggets built a lead as the quarter was winding down. He buried another three with 28 seconds left to put Denver up 37-25.
The Nuggets opened the second quarter with a full bench* unit (*Will Barton and Gary Harris both came off the bench) and got a 6-0 run out of the gate, mainly from Trey Lyles. The Cavaliers regrouped after a timeout to bounce back briefly through Jordan Clarkson but the Nuggets had an answer, this time from Monte Morris. At the halfway point of the quarter Malone brought back in the starters and they immediately went on a 5-0 mini run to push the Nuggets lead to twenty-five. The Cavs came back with their starters and got a nice drive from Osman but he could not convert the and one opportunity. The Nuggets were clearly the more talented team and it was showing. Osman and Sexton put together a few nice plays for Cleveland to stop the bleeding but Denver didn’t let the Cavs get any closer with a 70-46 lead at the half.
Sexton and Zizic opened the second half with energy to trim the lead a touch but Jokic continued to assert himself on offense which kept the lead above twenty. Murray, who was quietly having a very nice game, started to heat up with seven straight points for Denver. Cleveland took a timeout but Murray immediately hit a pull up three out of the TO and then followed that up with a nice kick out to Craig who buried a corner three. With a little over three minutes to go in the quarter Jokic secured his tenth rebound which marked his sixth triple double of the season. At about the two minute mark coach went to the bench and you had to wonder if that was a wrap for the starters on the night. The Nuggets went to Plumlee down low, continuing their night long assault on the paint but Cleveland’s bench was able to find some life and trim the lead. Morris knocked down a three just before the end of the quarter to put Denver back up by twenty-five going into the final period.
The fourth quarter opened looking like a game with a 25 point differential and the benches already checking in. It was a fairly sloppy affair with not too many makes. Morris continued to have his hot night shooting and buried another three. Otherwise though Denver’s bench was ice cold and struggling to take care of the basketball. After Barton had an ugly turnover dribbling the ball into a Cavalier player’s legs which led to a fast break, coach Malone called a timeout to regroup. Denver didn’t exactly tighten up their D, but Cleveland looked like a team getting blown out in the last quarter of the last game of a six game road trip. Most of their shots fell short and the Nuggets had enough buckets here and there to keep the lead right around that twenty-five point mark. At the halfway point of the quarter Malone started to go to his deep bench with Tyler Lydon checking in. Lyles was making the most of his minutes and scored the majority of the Nuggets points down the stretch. The reserves traded baskets to finish out the last few minutes and the Nuggets take care of business and get the victory.
Key Matchup: Nikola Jokic vs Ante Zizic
Jokic tallied his sixth triple double of the season and needed only three quarters to do it. He ended with nineteen points, twelve assists and eleven rebounds in just twenty-eight minutes of play. There was more than one stretch of the game where Jokic carried the offense, particularly in the first quarter when the game was still close. Zizic had a nice game of his own as the only big man to speak of for the Cavs. He wasn’t able to do much slowing down Joker on offense and didn’t have a big night on the boards but Zizic was able to show his skill on the offensive end. He had more than one nice move in the post to get an easy basket and ended up scoring twenty-three points of his own. Tonight’s big man matchup was certainly a testament to the young talent coming out of the Balkans.
Main thing I noticed: Jamal Murray is the second best player on the team
Murray’s run in the third quarter was outstanding and a very early nail in the coffin. It was yet another example of how Murray can single handedly swing the momentum with his hot shooting. He ended up leading the Nuggets in scoring with twenty-six points. It’s come to the point where I don’t think there’s really much question that Murray is the Nuggets second best player. He’s definitely surpassed Millsap as Paul settles into more of a supporting role and Gary Harris has just struggled with too many health issues to keep pace with Murray who has had an outstanding December and January. With the way Jamal is playing you start to wonder just how high that ceiling goes.
Closing thought: full steam ahead
Denver can fully wash the bad taste of the Warriors loss from their mouth and now should be focusing on the upcoming final push before the all star break. The Nuggets will have seven of the next twelve on the road before they get a week off but their competition isn’t exactly the toughest. After the all star break the Nuggets will have a difficult final push for playoff positioning so they need to cash in these next two weeks even with the extended travel time. They close out this homestand 3-1 which is on par with how they’ve played all season so all in all nothing to do but keep on winning basketball games.