Paul Millsap lead the team in scoring with 20 points, with seven other Nuggets finishing in double digits for points on a night where they faced little opposition from the opposing team’s defense for most of the night. Devin Booker scored 35 points in 30 minutes, but the rest of the team is so bad, it didn’t matter.
The Nuggets got off to a fast start tonight, jumping out to a 12-3 lead in the first three minutes before the Suns called timeout. Jamal Murray knocked in his second three of the game, crossing up his defender and swishing a long shot from the left wing. The Suns made a little run to close the lead down to four, but Millsap and Murray hit back-to-back 3-pointers to bump the lead back up to eight. The reserves started trickling into the game, and Elie Okobo made one of the most ridiculous 3-pointers I’ve ever seen, falling out of bounds as the shot clock expired and firing a left-handed shot that was as pure as the falling snow. Okobo’s next 3-pointer didn’t fall, and the Nuggets added to their lead thanks to Trey Lyles. They ended the quarter with a lead, but they played bad defense and allowed the Suns to keep up with them.
The Nuggets started the second quarter by standing around and watching the Suns play offense. Coach Malone had to call timeout after three minutes after a bad transition score by the Suns, visibly upset with the execution by the second unit. Mason Plumlee checked into the game, and the reliable starter was able to get a bucket in the post. His ability to communicate and actually play defense was super valuable for Denver during this stretch, and the Nuggets were able to withstand a push by the Suns to hold onto a lead. Jamal Murray tweaked his ankle, and had to leave the game to get treatment in the locker room. The Nuggets bumped the lead up to 15 points at halftime, and Murray was back to start the third quarter.
The Nuggets got off to a nice start in the third quarter, relying on their guards to generate open looks for their teammates for a change. Plumlee was active playing as a poor man’s version of Jokic (we can say that now that Jokic signed his extension), and the Nuggets stretched their lead to 20 points. The good version of Josh Jackson showed up with a huge dunk in transition, and then the bad version of Josh Jackson showed up, committing his fourth foul and having to take a seat. Malik Beasley was able to get to the free throw line shortly after he checked in, and the Nuggets closed the quarter strong to enjoy a 17-point lead at the close of the quarter.
They started the fourth with two straight 3-pointers, from Beasley and Lyles, and the Suns called timeout to decide whether or not to waive the white flag early. Kelly Oubre started doing things for Phoenix, but thankfully, they subbed him out for Troy Daniels (tank!!!). Juancho had a highlight play, whipping a pass to a cutting Beasley for a pretty layup that put Denver up 25. Jarred Vanderbilt checked in for Torrey Craig with just under four minutes remaining, getting his first minutes in the NBA as the game was clearly in garbage time. Vanderbilt was clearly excited to see the court for the first time, committing a traveling violation the first time he got to handle the ball, but he showed off some serious passing talent with a couple dishes in the final minutes.
Checking in for the first time in his NBA career: Jarred Vanderbilt! pic.twitter.com/vX8t0l5T51— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) January 26, 2019
What to watch for
Don’t lose to the Suns. They took care of that in convincing fashion! They had a nice first half, with the starters really taking the Suns to school. They coasted a bit in the third, but it was enough to help them keep things favorable enough for them to hold on to the end of the game.
Let’s play big. Mason Plumlee had a great night, with 16 points, 7 boards, and 6 assists, while Millsap had a quiet 20 and 9 evening. Trey Lyles had 12 points and 6 rebounds, but missed eight of his 13 shots as he settled for a few too many fadeaway jumpers. Plumlee and Millsap were great for Denver tonight, and without them, this game would have been much closer. While Plumlee played well, there’s no replacing Jokic in the starting lineup. It was nice to see that the team recognized that and still played to their strengths.
Let’s see what the Nuggets are made of. The Nuggets definitely had enough to pull off an easy win tonight. With no NBA players to play inside for Phoenix, the Nuggets carved up the Suns defense. The offense started off hot, dropped 70 in the first half, and put the game to bed at the start of the fourth quarter. We even got to see the debut of Jarred Vanderbilt, which was a nice way to end the game. Now we just have to wait for Michael Porter Jr. and Isaiah Thomas to get healthy. Hey, a fan can dream, right?
The Nuggets host the 76ers Saturday night, and in good fortune, Joel Embiid, Wilson Chandler, and Jimmy Butler are unlikely to play for their team. That should help give the Nuggets enough of an advantage to whip up a win.