Have you been experiencing an increase in crow’s feet on your face? Noticing more gray hair on your temples, or heaven forbid, less hair than what was just there the other day on the top of your head? Do you find yourself muttering “I just don’t know why Michael Porter Jr. can’t get 20 minutes a game” around the office or on your morning commute?
If so, you may be suffering from too much exposure to the 2019-20 Denver Nuggets.
Has there been any team in recent memory that has caused fans more mental anguish than this team? Some nights they look like one of the best five teams in the league, capable of hanging with the Milwaukee Bucks or knocking off the Los Angeles Clippers. Then on other nights, they’re giving up huge runs to one of the worst teams in the Eastern Conference, and their offense can’t figure out how to score on players that were in the G-League the week prior to the game.
There’s something different about this year’s team, and one of the things that is unique seems to be their ability to find a way to lose to teams that most reasonable people would expect them to beat. Whether the game is on a national broadcast or limited to customers of a certain cable network in town, the Nuggets have just found new and different ways to break our hearts, robbing us of hope and leaving us frustrated as fans.
Here’s a list of the worst losses of the season so far, a list that could very well be updated until the end of the season. The Nuggets do play the Bulls two more times before the season is over after all, and after reading through this list, I wouldn’t fault you for predicting a loss for the Nuggets some nights when you think a win should be no sweat.
This list starts with the least worst loss and progresses to the very worst. Please, comment below and let me know if I omitted any games or if you disagree about the rankings.
8) Sunday, February 2, on road versus Detroit Pistons, 128-123 in OT
What was shocking about this game is that the Nuggets lost in spite of a monster performance by Nikola Jokic. The Nuggets center had a huge triple-double, with 39 points, 11 assists, and 10 rebounds in nearly 40 minutes. Jokic was a +13 in plus/minus, in a game where both teams were tied at the end of regulation. Jamal Murray missed this early start with an ankle injury, and in the end, the Nuggets needed his offensive production and Monte Morris wasn’t able to fill that void. Jerami Grant played 45 minutes and had four rebounds.
This was a bad loss, but the reason it’s the least worst loss of these is because the Nuggets had just pulled off wins on a back-to-back against the Utah Jazz and the Milwaukee Bucks. I’m willing to bet that 10 times out of 10, Nuggets fans would prefer wins over those playoff teams than over the Pistons.
7) Saturday, January 4, on road versus Washington Wizards, 128-114
The Ish Smith game! The veteran point guard is known for one thing and one thing only — being really, really fast. That’s his game — if he can get around his defender and the defense doesn’t rotate on time, he gets wide open layups possession after possession. His shot chart is a thing of beauty, if you’re into masochist art.
The Wizards didn’t even have Bradley Beal available for this game, and they still managed to score over 30 points in every quarter of the game. The Nuggets were healthy for this game too, with their opening day starting lineup all together. Jerami Grant was a -25 in 15 minutes — 15 minutes! The entire bench combined for 32 points, matching Smith’s point total for the game. The Wizards bench scored 92 points in the game — just a baffling game.
6) Saturday, November 30, on road versus Sacramento Kings, 100-97 (OT)
The Nuggets started the game off well, taking a 57-40 lead into the locker room at halftime. But this game isn’t included in this list because of their first half successes. The Kings closed the fourth quarter on a 17-3 run, with Richaun Holmes blocking Jamal Murray on the final possession to force overtime. The Nuggets had a couple turnovers in the extra period, but the real kicker in this game came on the final play of the game.
After Buddy Hield made two free throws to go up by three points with 9 seconds remaining, the Nuggets inbounded the ball to Murray. Remember, the Nuggets are starting this play after a dead ball, a chance for everyone on the court to take note of the time remaining, the score, and talk to the head coach about what to do. It’s best to just watch what Murray did, because explaining it is pure agony.
Uhh, Jamal Murray ... what was that? pic.twitter.com/Ef0ZY7Y9XT— Dime (@DimeUPROXX) December 1, 2019
5) Saturday, March 7, on road versus Cleveland Cavaliers, 104-102
The Nuggets latest “worst loss of the season” came to the Cavaliers (again), allowing the former Eastern Conference contender to get a season sweep over a current Western Conference contender. Most good NBA teams will lose a game here or there to a basement-dweller, but they’ll manage to get revenge in the next game in the season. Not the 2019-20 Nuggets!
The game started out with the feeling that the Nuggets players figured that if they started out by hitting the Cavs in the mouth, they’d fold and give up, allowing them to coast to an easy win. Maybe they forgot they were playing on the road, and most home teams will put up a pretty decent effort with friendly fans cheering them on throughout the evening. There was just never a sense of urgency in the game, and they had 17 turnovers in the game. They blew a double-digit third quarter lead for a second time this week, and in a game where the Nuggets could have benefited from picking up an easy win, they found a way to lose.
It’s hard to win games if you don’t have either a top-10 offense or a top-10 defense and you gift the other team the ball as often as they have been doing. The Nuggets won’t silence any critics unless they start taking care of the ball and playing with more consistent energy.
The Nuggets haven't had a game with single-digit turnovers since February 2 (a loss in OT to the Pistons). They do have two games with 10 turnovers, but that's a 12 game stretch of downright sloppy play.— Dan (@minutemandan) March 8, 2020
4)Tuesday, November 12, at home versus Atlanta Hawks, 125-121
I don’t know what Jamal Murray did or said to Trae Young to make the former Oklahoma Sooners point guard mad, but whatever happened really triggered him. Young dropped 42 points and 11 assists on the Nuggets, single-handedly earning the road win for his team. Only one other player on the team took more than 10 shots (Jabari Parker with 18), but Young was unstoppable that night. It didn’t matter if the Nuggets defended him with Murray, Gary Harris, or Will Barton, Young found a way to score or break down the defense for easy buckets for his teammates.
The Nuggets could have had a better offensive night, with Gary Harris missing 11 of his 15 field goal attempts, with 8 misses on 10 3-point attempts, but they still managed to score 121 points. It’s not like they weren’t able to score against the Hawks, who have been atrocious on defense all season. The Nuggets had made an effort to trot out their “we’re a top-10 defense” sayings to start the season, and this was the first game where fans were reminded that saying something isn’t the same as doing something.
To rub salt in the wound, Young went online to trash-talk Murray after the game. Getting worked by a younger player on your home court, then getting dunked on online? A bad loss for the Nuggets and their starting point guard.
YOUR APOLOGY NEEDS TO BE AS LOUD AS THE DISRESPECT WAS... pic.twitter.com/EQszirVp1X— Trae Young (@TheTraeYoung) November 13, 2019
3) Wednesday, December 25, at home versus New Orleans Pelicans, 112-100
While the Pelicans are having a decent season - especially considering that Zion Williamson (the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 draft) has missed so many games, including this one - this was still a bad loss. The Nuggets have been so bad this year on national television, and this loss came on one of the most visible days for NBA basketball of the season. The NBA hypes Christmas Day basketball like few other days of the year, and the Nuggets being included in the five game slate should have been viewed as an honor; too bad the team didn’t respond that way!
The Nuggets didn’t win a single quarter of the game, starting the game with five turnovers in the first five minutes. Brandon Ingram was able to see a couple shots drop, and the former Lakers forward was the first to become comfortable on the national stage. Ingram was the X-factor for the Pelicans in the game, taking advantage of his length in a mismatch against Will Barton to go 7 for 9 on 3-point shots on his way to 31 points. Losing on a national broadcast denied the Nuggets a chance to show people that they were for real — a theme of the 2019-20 season.
2) Saturday, January 11, at home versus Cleveland Cavaliers, 111-103
John Beilein was still coaching the Cavaliers at this point, although he was fresh off apologizing for referring to his players as “thugs” according to reports. The Cavaliers had traded Jordan Clarkson to the Utah Jazz a few weeks ago, depriving them of one of their best scoring threats. Despite all of that, the Cavaliers were able to take advantage of a Nuggets team that came in mentally unprepared to win a basketball game that evening.
The Nuggets had just returned home after a five-game road trip, had two days off to prepare for this game, and still came in unprepared and couldn’t make anything work on offense. Everyone not named Nikola Jokic finished the first half 14-47 (29.8%), including a stunning 2-16 from behind the 3-point line. Malone called for a hockey sub early in the third quarter after the team fell down by 15, but the Cavaliers were able to play a zone defense and just stymie the Nuggets. The Nuggets rallied in part to a deployment of the Plumkic lineup, tying the game in the fourth, but they couldn’t defend the Cavs guards down the stretch.
It was obvious that this was a game that the Nuggets weren’t mentally up for, and once they realized they were about to lose if they didn’t get right, they tried flipping a switch. They managed to find a way to lose against a team that was not shy about criticizing their head coach to the media or in practice. When you think that there is no way that the Nuggets could lose a game, this was when Nuggets fans started to realize that that’s when the team was most vulnerable.
1)Tuesday, March 3, at home versus Golden State Warriors, 116-103
At this point in the season, it feels like a certainty that the more G-League players that are part of the opposing team’s starting lineup, the greater the odds that the Nuggets are going to lose that game. The Warriors started Juan Toscano-Anderson and Mychal Mulder, and I swear, I thought Mulder was actually going to be the guy from the X-Files. Mulder played 35 minutes! It was his first career start! He scored 15 points, finishing 5 of 10 on 3-point shots.
The Nuggets were able to get a first half lead, and despite being up by 9 points, totally collapsed in the second half. The Warriors were just lighting things up from the 3-point line, which is what a team with such a considerable disadvantage in terms of talent should do, but somehow the Nuggets defense was surprised by this. Every time they needed a bucket after a timeout or a score to quell a run, they’d commit a turnover or miss an open shot. On a night where the Warriors went 18 for 41 on 3-point attempts, the Nuggets finished 3 for 20 from behind the arc. That’s how you go from leading at the half to getting outscored by 25 points in the second half.
No Steph Curry. No Draymond Green. Still managed to lose. An unbelievable outcome.
What does it mean?
That’s eight losses on the season where the Nuggets probably thought that they would be going home with a win. Eight games where the Nuggets were the better team, but definitely did not play that way for 48 minutes.
The Nuggets are seven games behind the Lakers for the one seed.
In a macro sense, these losses don’t mean too much for the team. They’ve been dominant in their division, and have a lot of good wins. The team could be able to flip a switch once the playoffs begin and bring the results that Coach Malone wants. They have a tough stretch coming up, so this would be a good time to flip that switch and pick up some great wins to gain confidence before they enter the postseason. The Nuggets are as much of a lock as can be to make the playoffs at this point, but it is going to be really important to get homecourt advantage in the first and second round if they want to have a chance to make the Finals this season.