The holidays have come and gone, but the Denver Nuggets haven’t missed one beat keeping their winning position at the top of the Western Conference solidly in tact.
The good guys are currently on a 5-game winning streak after a monster game from Nikola Jokic brought them victory over the Charlotte Hornets Saturday afternoon.
Post-Christmas the NBA really heats up, so Denver will need to look for ways to increase the intensity now that teams will begin to lock-in on their playoff goals.
Here are some of this week’s notable moments.
Jamal Murray goes “Super Saiyan”
One of our brilliant writers Brendan Vogt wrote a piece about Murray’s incredible game against the Sacramento Kings this week, and I will admit that I had to Google the term “Super Saiyan” in order to fully appreciate his illustration Apparently, Super Saiyan is a type of advanced transformation in the Dragon Ball universe that characters can assume to unlock secret powers. Who knew? Maybe we can get Murray to rock the Super Saiyan hair-do to keep the magic alive.
Dragon Ball references aside, it’s official that Murray played lights out in the second half of the Nuggets match-up against the Kings scoring an incredible 31 points in just 24 minutes. The first half of his game was lack-luster to put it mildly, but he more than made up for lost time with his late-game push.
Apart from the obvious positives that come out of that game, I am particularly interested in Murray’s ability to generate emotional momentum for the Nuggets. During his surge, Murray could be seen yelling and gesturing in a way that not only fueled his game, but caused the Nuggets as a whole to overcome a deficit to win that game on the road.
Denver will NEED a player to keep the fire lit when fatigue and wear and tear will become a very real threat to the roster as they approach the playoffs. The second half of the season is when the “why” becomes an important motivating factor to keep players bringing the effort night after night.
I’d like to see Murray work to generate this type of momentum out of the gate each and every game. If he can hone this area of leadership, there’s no doubt in my mind he will be one of the next superstars in the league. For now, this ability will prove incredibly useful for the Nuggets as they look to maintain their position in the West in the second half of the season.
Jokic tallies season-high 39 points against Charlotte
Saturday afternoon’s home game against the Hornets was about what you’d expect from an afternoon game. There wasn’t a ton of excitement, and both teams remained fairly neck and neck for the duration of the game without any major shifts in lead until the 4th quarter. In fact, the lead changed in the game a total of 12 times before the Nuggets finally captured firm control and locked in the win allowing Charlotte to take that L on the way out.
Although the game felt somewhat “blah” Jokic put on a spectacular 39 point, 12 rebound, and 6 assist show even going coast to coast for a dunk—his second straight game with a memorable dunk.
NOTE: The only other player to post a line like that in 34 minutes on the court was Michael Jordan.
Hornets guard Malik Monk discussed how difficult Jokic is to guard stating,
“You try to play him straight up, he’s going to do what he wants. We just tried to play him straight up and he just exploited us on that. He’s a great player. I can’t say anything bad about him.’’
The sky is the limit for young Jokic who is incredible before being even close to his prime. His talent is not so much of a secret anymore as his star continues to get brighter. Teams in the league now have to seriously strategize and prepare for how to handle Jokic when they take on the Nuggets—this is good and bad.
The obvious positive side to this coin is that the Nuggets are now a very real and relevant presence in the Western Conference, but the not so good news is that Jokic will need to develop ways to pivot (quite literally) around teams’ defensive strategies to prevent them from shutting down his game, and subsequently the Nuggets’ offense. This will become especially important when the Nuggets face teams in a playoff series where there will be more than one game for opponents to work out an effective defensive strategy.
For now, he’s managing well, but things only get more intense from here so I see this point in the season as a pivotal moment for Jokic’s career. Judging on how he’s fared so far this year, I’m optimistic about the outcome.
The outlook after Christmas:
It’s incredibly refreshing to see the Nuggets in this position at this point in the season. In January, they finally are no longer looking at a giant self-made hole to crawl out of in order to eek by in the last spot of the playoff lineup.
They’re 8-2 in their last 10 games riding a 5 game winning streak after Christmas—a job very well done. However, that doesn’t mean things will be easy going forward. The objective now will be to maintain their position in the conference, and find a way to hone more consistency on defense while simultaneously balancing offensive execution. That’s quite a bit of leveling up to do in a short amount of time, but seeing as those they activated their Go-Go Gadget Defense seemingly overnight this year I think they’re up to the task.
At the (almost) half-way point, I’m genuinely proud of what the Nuggets have accomplished this season.
Keep proving it!