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Mile Highs and Lows: A Recap of the Denver Nuggets in January

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The Denver Nuggets were able to exceed expectations in one of the tougher months on the calendar for this season

NBA: Utah Jazz at Denver Nuggets Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets faced a tough schedule in the month of January, complete with 10 road games and 8 games against teams with a .500 record or better. To make matters even more challenging, the Nuggets suffered injuries to key players including Paul Millsap, Gary Harris and Jamal Murray this month. Despite this, the Nuggets were able to escape the month with an 11-5 record, thanks in large part due to their best player, Nikola Jokic. While perhaps the worst loss of the season so far came this month against the Washington Wizards in a game that they were without Bradley Beal and much of their supporting cast, the Nuggets made up for that loss with great wins against some of the elite teams in the league, including the Houston Rockets, Utah Jazz and Milwaukee Bucks.

Let’s take a look at the storylines for the first month of 2020 for the Denver Nuggets.

Record in January: 11-5

Overall record: 34-15

Game of the Month: Denver Nuggets vs. Milwaukee Bucks

The deck was stacked against the Nuggets on Friday night in their matchup with the Milwaukee Bucks, the team with the best record in the NBA that was on a 9-game winning streak. The Nuggets, meanwhile, were on the second night of a back-to-back and had to travel from Denver to Milwaukee after the late game Thursday night. The Nuggets did not get to the hotel until 5:00 a.m. local time and were without three starters and Mason Plumlee, yet they came away with a 127-115 win. It was without a doubt one of the most impressive wins of the season, and it took a team effort in order to achieve what they did.

They were led in scoring by Will Barton, who had 24 points, 8 assists, and 7 rebounds and hit 6 out of 9 three pointers to boot. It wasn’t just him, though, as every player that took the court scored in double figures. This win was largely attributed to the Nuggets’ success from the three-point line, which has been a rarity this season.They went 22/46 from long range, which was very important in stemming the tide of the Bucks’ early offense by Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton.

Highlight of the Month: Jokic hits yet another game winner against the Dallas Mavericks

When the Nuggets play Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks, you know you’re in for a good game. January 8th was no exception. With 13 seconds left and the Nuggets down one, Jokic backed down Dorian Finney-Smith in the post before turning around and hitting a shot to take the lead with just under 8 seconds left on the clock. What was perhaps more impressive than that shot, however, was the defensive effort on the other end to prevent Doncic from hitting a heartbreaking shot of his own. Jerami Grant and Torrey Craig did an excellent job of forcing the ball out of Doncic’ hands. Doncic was forced to throw the ball to the corner, and after Malik Beasley did a great job of closing out, the win was sealed for the Nuggets.

Player of the Month: Nikola Jokic

On Thursday night, it was announced that Jokic will be an All-Star reserve for the second year in a row, and it couldn’t be more deserved. Nikola Jokic’s stats in the month of January have been nothing short of outstanding. He averaged 24 points, 10.3 rebounds, and 6.3 assists, and has come through in the clutch time and time again when the game is on the line. There’s no better example of this than his game winner against the Mavericks, or when he scored the last 11 points of the game against the Jazz to help his team get a tough road win while missing three starters. He continues to prove that the Nuggets’ best chance at winning a close game is to put the ball in his hands.

Story of the Month: The injury bug bites again

Just when you thought the Nuggets were going to avoid the injury bug, it hit all at once. Paul Millsap has been nursing a bruised left knee and hasn’t played since January 6th. Then, Gary Harris was forced to miss five games with an abductor strain, followed by Jamal Murray suffering a sprained ankle in the game against the Charlotte Hornets on January 15th for which he has yet to return. That’s not all, though. Mason Plumlee has been sidelined with an ankle injury of his own that he suffered January 20th against the Minnesota Timberwolves and will be out at least 2-4 weeks.

Through it all, the Nuggets have remained steady, but there’s no doubt that having their team at full strength would have made things easier and perhaps prevented some losses, such as the one against the Indiana Pacers in which they were missing three starters. Nikola Jokic, just as he did last season, has been carrying the team through these injuries, but he’s not doing it alone. Torrey Craig, Jerami Grant, and Will Barton have all been instrumental in helping the Nuggets stay afloat. Regardless, the All-Star break could not be coming at a better time, and hopefully the Nuggets will be closer to full strength by the time they take the court on February 21st.

Surprise of the Month: Kobe Bryant’s tragic passing shakes up the entire NBA

On Sunday, less than two hours before the Nuggets were scheduled to take the court against the Houston Rockets in a Sunday afternoon game, news broke that the world had lost an NBA icon in Kobe Bryant. The news became even more heartbreaking when we learned that the helicopter crash also took the lives of Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter, Gianna Bryant, six other passengers, and the pilot. While the news must have shocked the players to their core, they still had to muster the strength to play a game. The Pepsi Center held a moment of silence to honor Kobe before the game started, and the shorthanded Nuggets went on to beat the Rockets, 117-110. Bryant’s passing will surely loom over the remainder of the season as players and teams continue to honor him and what he meant, not only to the game of basketball, but the world as a whole.

Grade for the Month: A

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