There’s no sugarcoating it: this week sucked for the Denver Nuggets. Two of the worst losses of the season against Golden State and Cleveland again, sandwiched by almost another bad loss save the late game heroics of Jamal Murray. The defense is porous regardless of who is on the floor, and more often than not the offense is clunky. There is no joy on the court.
With that comes tempered expectations. The Nuggets need to take a long, hard look in the mirror and figure out some changes because although March basketball is a slog, it’s also when the team needs to be almost-peaking, not trending the other direction.
Maybe the media has been right this whole time? Or is this just a byproduct of recency bias? The Nuggets are talented for sure, but contenders? Only time will tell.
For now, see what the national media are saying this week below:
Nuggets Rank: 6
Last week: 4
There’s a small identity crisis happening with the Nuggets right now. Coach Mike Malone is unafraid to rip his team when it plays poorly, so it isn’t outside the norm to feel the anxiety coming out of Denver. But Malone was on-point with his criticism after Saturday’s loss to the Cavaliers:
”Who are we? And who are we going to be? That’s a decision that we have to really think long and hard about and make that decision because we are not playing as well as we’re capable of, and that’s kind of scary for it to be this time of the season.”
Nuggets Rank: 8
Last week: 6
Shockingly beaten by Golden State at home, saved from what would have been another horrendous loss to Charlotte by Jamal Murray’s game-winning jumper from the left baseline and then bested on the road by the Cavs, Denver just completed one of its most troubling weeks of the year.
No wonder it prompted soul-searching.
”Who are we?” Nuggets head coach Mike Malone asked after that brutal loss to the Cavs on Saturday. “And who are we going to be? That’s a decision that we have to really think long and hard about and make that decision because we are not playing as well as we’re capable of, and that’s kind of scary for it to be this time of the season.”
The Nuggets are disappearing for long stretches on offense and failing to summon consistent focus on D, particularly in transition.
There’s no good time for an identity crisis, but losing a sense of self this late in the year is terrifying for a squad that has the personnel to be a fringe contender.
Nuggets Rank: 9
Last week: 6
Did the expectations change? Have to think they went down slightly.
I really thought the continuity of the Nuggets from last season’s successful season to this year would have them challenging for the top seed in the West. In fact, I may have picked them to finish with the 1-seed. Everybody wanted to see how they built on last season’s success, and whether or not Jamal Murray could complement Nikola Jokic consistently. Instead, the Nuggets are still very good and having a good season, but they don’t appear to be as good as a lot of the expectations forecasted. They’re going to win around 54 games, which is around what their over/under total was going into the season. But I’m not sure it feels like they’ve taken a step forward, which isn’t easy to do with their level of success last season. For me, that puts them slightly below expectations for this season, but their playoff performance will likely determine that anyway.
Why this ranking? Horrendous week for the Nuggets. They should have rolled through this week with games against Golden State, Charlotte, and Cleveland. Instead, they went 1-2 and were a Terry Rozier 3-point attempt away from going 0-3 in these games. Denver just can’t find consistency lately, and it has to be wearing on Michael Malone quite a bit.
Nuggets Rank: 10
Last week: 4
The Nuggets do not want to see the Cavs in The Finals. On Saturday, with Jamal Murray missing almost the same exact shot he made to beat the Hornets two nights earlier, Cleveland swept the season series and the Nuggets fell to 7-5 against bottom seven teams in the East (with two games against the Bulls remaining). They struggled offensively against the league’s 29th-ranked defense in the second half (going scoreless on eight straight possessions as they lost the lead in the fourth quarter), but they’ve also allowed more than 120 points per 100 possessions over those five losses.
The defense is obviously the bigger issue and the reason why Michael Porter Jr. was DNP’d in Charlotte on Thursday. The Nuggets rank 29th on that end of the floor since the All-Star break, struggling to defend both the basket (21st in opponent field goal percentage in the restricted area) and the 3-point line (23rd in opponent 3-point percentage). They allowed three of the six worst offensive teams in the league to score more than 118 points per 100 possessions last week, and four of their next five games are against four of the five best offensive teams in the league.
Nuggets Rank: 7
Last week: 7
Is there a more confusing contender than the Nuggets. Denver blew out Toronto on March 1, then dropped games against the Warriors and Cavaliers last week. It’s not quite effort that’s plaguing the Nuggets, but there is an evident malaise as we roll through March. Perhaps Nikola Jokic will assert himself throughout the postseason, but it’s hard to see the Nuggets sustaining strong play for three rounds to reach the Finals.
Nuggets Rank: 10
Last week: 6
When you lose to the Warriors (at home, no less) and the Cavs in the same week, you know something is up with your team. That was the case for the Nuggets, whose lone win this week came by two points in Charlotte. Nikola Jokic averaged just 12.7 points on 12 shots per game in three contests and committed five turnovers per game while dishing out 7.7 assists. Jamal Murray shot 38 percent from the field and 26 percent from 3. A positive sign: Gary Harris shot 57 percent from the 3-point line and averaged 13.3 points per game for the week.