The Denver Nuggets played the Sacramento Kings on the second night of a back to back and for the first time this season started Michael Porter Jr. Denver also started Jerami Grant as both Gary Harris and Paul Millsap were late scratches. Meanwhile, on Sacramento’s side De’Aaron Fox was a surprise go. MPJ shined in his starting debut while the rest of the Nuggets starters all scored in double figures. Sacramento got a huge performance out of Nemanja Bjelica but end the end the Kings didn’t quite have enough and the Nuggets recorded the 120-115 victory.
MPJ opened the scoring for Denver with two free throws then grabbed a board on the other end, he followed it up with a floater a minute later helping the Nuggets to an early lead. Denver‘s defense wasn’t at their best to begin the game but they got an all around scoring effort from the wings to stay narrowly ahead. At the six minute mark Denver extended their lead to eight behind a tough shot from Porter and a fast break bucket set up by a beautiful Jokic pass. After a Kings timeout they were able to shift the momentum with the benches coming in. Sacramento went on a 14-4 run behind Bjelica and Buddy Hield to capture the lead. Denver’s bench finally got it together as the quarter came to a close but they trailed by one after one.
The bench continued to struggle on defense in the second quarter, allowing the Kings more than one good look for three. The defense improved as the quarter progressed but then the bench was struggling to hit their shots, particularly from outside, so the Kings remained in front. Malik Beasley gave Denver some strong minutes at the end of his shift to get Denver close. The starters checked in after that and regained the lead, MPJ once again was making his presence felt with a putback dunk and then a mid range fade away. Jokic picked up a silly foul, which was his third, with the Nuggets up five and three minutes to go so that forced him to the bench. The starters plus Plumlee were able to keep serve though and closed the half with a five point lead.
Denver’s backcourt upped the defensive pressure to start the second half and grew the Nuggets lead to nine. The Kings attacked the paint to respond and trimmed the lead back down but Denver kept in front behind Jokic and Murray. The game went back and forth for a while, Denver pushed their lead up and the Kings responded. With five minutes left the Nuggets lead was four. They reeled off a quick 5-0 run to push the lead up to nine but then the offense stalled and the Kings chipped away to get back in it. The bench checked in and limited Sacramento’s attack. They closed the quarter strong and kept Denver in front by seven at the end of three quarters.
The bench continued to play well as the fourth quarter opened. Monte Morris and Mason Plumlee in particular had a good two man game going. Porter checked back in the game and showed his offensive prowess. First he buried a step back three with a hand in his face and then had another putback jam to stretch Denver’s lead into double digits. The rest of the starters came back in but it looked like tired legs from the back to back might be catching up. Sacramento went on a run and closed the lead back below ten. Behind Bjelica, they kept pushing and closed the lead to four with around three minutes left to go. The Kings continued to keep pace down the stretch but couldn’t get enough stops to get any closer. Jokic nailed a Sombor Shuffle with 25 seconds remaining to push the Nuggets lead to six and put the Kings on life support. Bjelica hit a three but despite some shaky inbounding the Nuggets hung on and sealed up the victory at the free throw line. Denver wins 120-115.
Best matchup: Jerami Grant vs Nemanja Bjelica
The Nuggets made it clear that they liked the Grant/Bjelica matchup and they went to Jerami in the post often. He was able to use his athleticism to get shots inside and scored a lot of points at the rim. He was also efficient from beyond the arc. Where Grant struggled was defending Bjelica who was the best player for the Kings tonight. He got plenty of good looks from three and buried them more often than not. Across the board no one looked good on defense for either team and that type of game is where a guy like Bjelica can shine. Still, credit Jerami for keeping pace on the other end if nothing else.
Main thing I noticed: MPJ is good
It went about as good as anyone could have hoped in Porter Jr’s first start of the season. He ended up scoring nineteen points and grabbing six rebounds in twenty-six minutes of play. There is no doubt that MPJ has some improving to do all around and particularly on defense. At times he certainly looks every bit like a guy who missed two years of basketball and is playing against NBA level talent for the first time in his career. However, the offensive firepower he brings is undeniable and his ability on the boards isn’t talked about enough. There’s going to be some bumps along the way but tonight was very promising for Nuggets fans.
Closing thought: I’ll take it
It was not the best game tonight, Denver had some shaky moments and nearly let this game slip away from them. Still, they got efforts from everyone on the court, including Plumlee going 9/10 from the free throw line. A back to back is always hard to win but with the Kings also on a B2B as well and the Nuggets being at home this is a game they need to win. Denver now can head into their five game road trip on a two game winning streak and winners of nine of their last ten.