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NBA Power Rankings: Reactions to a slow start to the season

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An 0-2 start does not bode well for the Nuggets in the power rankings

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Two games in and the Denver Nuggets are in the hole 0-2 on the season. After bungling the season opener to the Sacramento Kings, the Nuggets fell handily to the Los Angeles Clippers on Christmas Day. Nikola Jokic has been stellar but there are legitimate questions that remain for just about every other player on the roster at this point. Denver’s defense has been disastrous and the offense has been incredibly underwhelming as well.

It should be a surprise to no one, then, that the Nuggets fell across the board in this week’s power rankings. Some outlets put a lot of stock in these two losses while others were less fazed. Denver is unanimously out of the top five, but in some cases falls out of the top 15 and even as low as 21 (???). The season is young, though, and with Houston, Sacramento, Phoenix and Minnesota on the docket this week there is ample opportunity for the Nuggets to get in the win column.

Until then, see what the national media is saying below:

ESPN

Rank: 9
Last week: 8

What they say:

Nikola Jokic hasn’t skipped a beat, just missing out on starting the season with consecutive triple-doubles by one rebound. But Jamal Murray looked like he left his shot in the bubble, until he finally got going in the second half against the Clippers. So far through two games, Denver’s defense misses glue guys such as Jerami Grant, Mason Plumlee and Torrey Craig. Michael Porter Jr. needs more than the nine shots he got against the Clippers.

Bleacher Report

Rank: 9
Last week: 4

What they say:

The Denver Nuggets could be suffering from a Western Conference Finals hangover. The loss to the L.A. Clippers on Christmas Day was not a surprise, but losing the way they did on opening night to the Kings was. They are the more experienced team with championship expectations. There are no bad teams in the West, but teams like the Nuggets must make sure they win when they are supposed to, and that was one they let slip away.

Jamal Murray struggled in his first game, going 1-of-9 and fouling out. He was better against the Clippers, scoring 23 points.

The focus has been Murray’s shot-making and whether that will continue from the bubble, but another thing to watch for is his playmaking. Nikola Jokic has done his job with a triple-double in the opener and nearly a second one against the Clippers. But if the Nuggets will take the next step, Murray has to use his secondary playmaking skills.

Will Barton, who missed the bubble, has done a great job filling the role Jerami Grant had, coming off the bench, scoring and taking on larger wing assignments. If he can sustain this play, the Nuggets will be just fine.

They have a shot at redemption this week when they face the Kings again on Tuesday.

The Athletic

Rank: 21
Last week: 6

What they say:

Week 1 overreaction: The bubble was a fluke! People in Denver were hoping that the bubble was something Jamal Murray could carry over into the next season and beyond. Through two games … it hasn’t exactly looked that way. He was brutal in the opening night loss to Sacramento with a 1-of-9 shooting performance from the field. He followed it up with a solid performance on Christmas Day (23 points on 9-of-20 from the field), but we’ve seen solid out of him. We want to see Murray light these guys up each night.

Why are they ranked here? Blew a home win to Sacramento in a pretty bad way, and then got beat down by the Clippers. They need to take a big hit this week but will be fine in the future.

Hoops Habit

Rank: 18
Last week: 7

What they say:

It is pretty clear the Denver Nuggets have not recovered from the hangover of the end of last season. Nikola Jokic has been great and Will Barton is showing people exactly what the team missed in Orlando. Otherwise, it has been terribly frustrating.

Jamal Murray is more like the player before the season paused (quality but annoyingly inconsistent) than the one who took over in the playoffs. Michael Porter Jr. was brilliant in game one and then almost passive in game two. This team will get better. For now they are not where they need to be while their contemporaries are thriving.

The Ringer

Rank: 10
Last week: 7

What they say:

These aren’t the same Nuggets we just saw make a run to the West finals. They need to solve some major issues to find their way back there. It’s now the third season of wondering whether Gary Harris will ever find his scoring stroke again. (The answer appears to be no.) But that’s not the only question on this roster. Who will step up at forward? Michael Porter Jr. is an unreliable defender, Paul Millsap is old, and JaMychal Green is hurt. What’s the point of having both Monte Morris and Facundo Campazzo when they play such similar games? Can Jamal Murray find some consistency?

The Nuggets can be really, really good. But they feel like a team with a ton of depth and not enough top-end talent. ESPN’s Brian Windhorst previously reported that the Nuggets have had discussions with the Rockets for James Harden. If Denver continues to underwhelm, I can’t help but wonder if it’ll become a more serious suitor.

CBS Sports

Rank: 20
Last week: 6

What they say:

There were concerns about the Nuggets defense heading into the season, so it’s a bit alarming to see them giving up 118 points per 100 possessions in an 0-2 start. Nikola Jokic and Michael Porter Jr. have looked good offensively and Paul Millsap appears rejuvenated, but they’re going to need to figure things out on the defensive end as the season goes along if they’re going to remain contenders.

NBA.com

Rank: 6
Last week: 3

What they say:

Nikola Jokic has 53 points, 24 rebounds and 24 assists through two games and (going back to Nov., 2019) he’s made 10 of his last 12 shots to tie or take the lead in the final minute of the fourth quarter or overtime. But he can’t be a clutch shooter if he doesn’t shoot, and two Jokic turnovers (one at the end of regulation, one at the end of OT) cost the Nuggets in their opening-night loss to Sacramento.

More concerning is a defense that allowed the Kings to grab 18 offensive rebounds (including the one that determined the game) and allowed the Clippers to drain 19 3-pointers on Christmas. Michael Porter Jr. (not a big surprise) and Gary Harris (more surprising) got caught with their heads turned within two seconds of each other as Kawhi Leonard found Lou Williams for one of the Clips’ eight corner 3-pointers. Jamal Murray (10-for-29) is off to a slow start, but the offense will be there. It’s the defensive focus and effort that will determine the Nuggets’ ceiling.