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Recap: Nuggets defense fails against Nets in 135-130 loss

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The Nuggets gave up season highs in assists and 3-pointers, dropping a winnable game on the road against the Nets.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Brooklyn Nets Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

Nikola Jokic picked up his tenth triple-double of the season, but it wasn’t enough for the Nuggets to pick up a win on the road against the Brooklyn Nets.

The Nuggets got a double-double from Jamal Murray in his first game back after sitting out a couple games with an ankle injury, with 19 points and 11 rebounds. But the Nuggets defense was horrendous in the second quarter, flipping a double digit lead into a double digit deficit, and the Nuggets weren’t able to recover.

The Nets finished with a season-high 36 assists on 46 shots, with 19 3-pointers, a game after the Pistons set season highs in assists and made 3-pointers.

The Nuggets got their first basket of the game from Will Barton, and proceeded to make their next two baskets to jump out to a quick lead. Plumlee had two blocks, helping trigger fast break opportunities, as the Nuggets showed much more energy than they had in their previous game. Denver got it up to 16-5 after a Plumlee dunk before the Nets called their first timeout. The Nets were able to find some success on offense with Allen attacking Jokic as the roll man, using his length to finish over the Nuggets All-Star. Plumlee became the first player to reach double digit points with a runner in the paint, but he looked a little gassed, and was subbed out for Trey Lyles. That gave the Nuggets a smaller lineup, with Jokic at center and Lyles, Monte Morris, Malik Beasley, and Will Barton sharing the court with him. The Nets responded to the Nuggets extreme floor-spacing lineup by going to a 2-3 zone, which ... I mean, okay? Sure. Jokic immediately lobbed the ball to Lyles for an easy dunk, but they followed that make up by missing three straight long jumpers. Plumlee checked back in and hit one of his funky runners, then followed that up with another basket, spinning through the paint before banking a shot off the glass. Nets fans got real excited after a D’Angelo Russell dunk (his second of the season) with 28 seconds left, but the Nuggets were able to finish the quarter with a lead, 35-30.

The Nets went on an 8-0 run to start the second, taking the lead thanks to 3-pointers from Allen Crabbe and Treveon Graham. Jokic was able to get the ball to Lyles for a bucket, and then Monte Morris buried a free throw jumper in transition to give Denver the lead again. Jokic barreled through DeMarre Carroll, drawing a foul and tossing in the runner for good measure. Lyles stroked in a 3-pointer from the top of the arc, his first triple of the game. The two teams struggled to score for a stretch, as the Nuggets started to look a bit fatigued, perhaps due to the shortened rotation. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson fouled Jokic, and vehemently disagreed with the call, drawing a technical and having to be restrained by Jarrett Allen. Will Barton went under a screen against Napier, who knocked down a pull-up triple to put Brooklyn up by four points. The Nets caught fire after a Nuggets timeout, getting a dunk from Allen and consecutive baskets from Joe Harris. The game really started to slip away from Denver after another 3-pointer from Harris, followed by a block on Juancho Hernangomez by Rodions Kurucs. Beasley scored with a few seconds remaining, but that didn’t change the fact that the Nuggets had just given up 42 points in the quarter to enter halftime down by 12.

The Nuggets defense really was exposed in the first half, with the Nets finishing the first two quarters with 20 assists on 24 made field goals (WOW) and shot 10 of 15 from behind the 3-point line. After the Detroit game, it didn’t seem possible to play that poorly on defense again, but after 24 minutes in Brooklyn, the Nuggets were on pace to perform to that level once again.

The third quarter started with Kurucs drawing a foul on Plumlee, getting his shoulder past Plumlee and getting to the rim. Murray hit a stepback midrange jumper to counter, but Russell answered with a 3-pointer from the wing. Russell added another four points, knocking down a deep 3-pointer that made Malone call timeout to try to reorganize his defense. Russell rang up another 3-pointer, as did Kurucs, and the lead was 21 points for Brooklyn. Malone had obviously seen enough from the starting lineup, and pulled the entire lineup for a group that hopefully would show more energy. Monte Morris took over for the Nuggets, getting a couple baskets to chop the lead down to 12. Jarred Vanderbilt blocked Joe Harris on a drive, but got blocked by Allen on the other end of the court, triggering a fast break bucket for Hollis-Jefferson. Joe Harris made another triple, helping re-establish a rhythm for the Nets. Brooklyn cracked 100 points with 2:30 left in the third, and got back to the free throw line a few possessions later after Carroll beat Lyles to the rim. A string of misses from the Nuggets backup power forward, and by the end of the quarter, the Nets were up 21 points again. Plumlee did set a new Nuggets career-high with a dunk, getting him to 20 points on the evening.

The Nuggets started the quarter on a run, and the starters were able to make up some ground to close the deficit to 16 points before Kenny Atkinson had to call timeout. The Nuggets continued to push the pace with Morris at point, with the backup guard beating nearly everyone down the court after grabbing a rebound, although he did miss the layup. Plumlee swatted a 3-pointer, then scored on another funky runner, but Carroll made a corner triple to give Brooklyn a 15 point lead with 4:30 remaining. The Nuggets cut the lead to 10 points, but after a block by Jokic, Plumlee fouled Allen, picking up his sixth of the game. Jokic blocked another shot, then rambled to the rim for a reverse layup. Jokic picked up a triple-double with an assist to Murray to cut the deficit to six, but Jamal Murray got caught watching the ball and Hollis-Jefferson got a wide open dunk to push the lead to eight.

Three takeaways

Here’s a hot take - why play Lyles? Honestly, if he’s going to throw out stinkers like tonight, what’s the point? We all know this is a contract year for him, and he’s trying to play for his next contract with one of the 30 teams in the NBA. Is he being played for his floor spacing? He’s shooting 25 percent on his 3-point attempts. Is it defense? Torrey Craig has more blocks and steals. Is it rebounding? Jarred Vanderbilt has shown in limited minutes that rebounding is already one of his strengths at the NBA level. If the Nuggets want to preserve Michael Porter Jr.’s rookie status until next season, fine. But we’ve already cracked that seal for Vanderbilt, and at some point, Lyles is doing more harm than good out there than Vanderbilt would be. Split Lyles’ minutes between Juancho (who has also been bad this season) and Vanderbilt, and hope for the best.

Our guard defense stinks. For a second game in a row, the Nuggets guards were just terrible at chasing shooters around screens and keeping dribble penetration away from the middle of the paint. The Nuggets can’t defend if the opposing guards are getting free run on offense, and it doesn’t matter how many points they score if the other team is putting up 130 points on them with ease.

What a game from Mason Plumlee. Plumlee has been everything anyone could have expected this season. He’s figured out how to play alongside Nikola Jokic, he’s helped establish a sense of physicality for the team, and he has added elements to his game. He fouled out tonight, but he gave a great 28 minutes to the team tonight. There’s no reason to not be supportive of him.

Next up

The final game on this road trip, a sortie against the Philadelphia 76ers after the trade deadline. No confirmation if Tobias Harris or Boban Marjanovic will be available for the 76ers following their trade from the Clippers.