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Roundtable: Are the Nuggets back to winning with offense again?

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Stiffs Writers react to Denver’s 12-3 start

NBA: Boston Celtics at Denver Nuggets Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets have won five games in a row. Which of the five was the most impressive victory?

Nick Hertzog (@NickHertzogSBN): I hope the Rockets game was as cathartic for the players as it was for me. Not only do the Rockets play a style of basketball I despise, but they have consistently and convincingly beaten the Nuggets the last several years. Fortunately, the Rockets now have Russell Westbrook. Since the Nuggets have the Westbrook Whisperer, Torrey Craig, things have swung back in our favor. The Nuggets’ style of play has always been more conducive to playoff success—not to mention much more fun to watch—but it felt good having that confirmed so early in the season. Houston is good; Denver is better.

Gordon Gross (@GMoneyNuggs): The Rockets is the most cathartic for sure. The most impressive was seeing the offense back against the Memphis Grizzlies, if only because we’ve been seeing Denver limp along on that side of the court since the season began, and seeing it all unleashed again was a sun-is-shining-behind-a-chorus-of-angels moment. But yeah - go with Houston because that was a very large obstacle in Denver’s path the last few years that they could never quite dislodge.

Gage Bridgford (@GbridgfordNFL): The win over the Rockets was the most impressive for a few reasons. If they had knocked off the Celtics with a complete game from Kemba Walker, it’d be different. They held James Harden to just 27 points. That seems like a lot until you remember that he was averaging nearly 40 points per game entering that night. It was also a team effort that saw every starter get into double figures for scoring. It’s not a one-man show anymore, and that’s the type of effort you need to beat the NBA’s best teams.

Ryan Blackburn (@NBABlackburn): I wanted to go with another win to be contrarian, but the Houston Rockets win really was the best of the bunch. James Harden and Clint Capela had given the Nuggets fits for years—and that may not change going forward—but for one night, the Nuggets contained that duo to a reasonable output, and they limited the Rockets to 95 points in the process. The offense will eventually come, but Denver didn’t need it against Houston while the defense was so great.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Denver Nuggets Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Nuggets offense has improved in recent weeks, but is the offense really back?

Hertzog: Nah, but not because of the key players. Jokic’s scoring and shooting percentages are still down, but Barton, Murray, and Millsap are more than making up for that. It’s the bench that continues to struggle offensively. We saw signs of improvement against the Suns, but until Malik Beasley makes it back into the rotation permanently and MPJ, Juancho and Grant figure out how to be productive in limited minutes, the offense won’t be as good as last year. The interesting thing is, though, that may not matter this year. The defense is that good.

Gross: Nope. Denver is running a lot more two-man ponderous game and not nearly as much off-ball movement. In the clutch moments they’re still getting it done (thanks Jokic!) but both pace and passing are down for Denver this year. This isn’t their championship offense - but they have plenty of time to find it still and being able to run a healthy roster out there is definitely showing the impact both Paul Millsap and Will Barton can have on this offense, even sluggish as it can be.

Bridgford: Not at all. They’ve scored more than 120 points just twice this season, and one of those came in a loss to the Atlanta Hawks. They’re getting open looks that aren’t falling, and Jokic is still not playing fully up to the level that is expected of him. We’re seeing the team get the job done as a team on both ends of the floor which is great, but the best teams are going to force them to score more. There is a long way to go in this season, but we need to see more progress.

Blackburn: Here’s my theory: the Nuggets offense is there, and it’s actually really good, but it takes so much effort and focus to be an elite defense that Denver has lost focus on what made them such a great offensive team. Cuts, ball movement, drives to the rim, and kick outs for open threes. It’s very rare for a team to be top five in both offense and defense, and those squads are generally the highest level of contender. The Nuggets may have to ease off the gas pedal on their defense if they want to start generating great offense again. That, and finding a consistent bench unit would be a start.

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Will the Nuggets finish this week with a record of 14-3 heading into a massive Los Angeles Lakers game next week?

Hertzog: As listeners of Breaking Basketball already know, the Nuggets do, in fact, finish this homestand 4-0. And they will be 21-6 — the best record in the Western Conference — when they play the Lakers again just before Christmas. Ink it. Hopefully, though, that’s where The Dig’s predictive powers cease, because things go off the rails during that December 22 game ...

Gross: They should, unless they get caught looking forward to that Lakers game instead of focusing on the business at hand. Denver is quite a bit better than both Washington and Sacramento, and even though Denver has had a tendency to wobble in Sac-town over the years they should be able to knuckle down before their battle with LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

Bridgford: Against the Washington Wizards, it all comes down to their ability to slow down Bradley Beal. If they can do that, unlike their defense against Trae Young in the Hawks loss, that game is wrapped up. In the Kings game, unfortunately for Sacramento, they’ll likely be without De’Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley III. That just makes life easier for the Nuggets who will be heading for a clash with the Los Angeles Lakers on a seven-game winning streak and a 14-3 record.

Blackburn: This team is legit good. It’s possible they look ahead to the Lakers and drop the game against the Sacramento Kings though, The Kings are getting better, and Buddy Hield just hit 11-of-21 threes against the Boston Celtics in a one-point loss. The point being, the Nuggets could definitely be less than 14-3 going into their LA matchup...will they be? I predict they are 14-3 at that point.