- Jamal Murray’s post game is fun
- The Nuggets need to find ways to get Michael Porter Jr. more shots
- LeBron James and Anthony Davis were both great, but not their best
- Denver’s depth was on full display tonight
- This team can compete with the Los Angeles Lakers
The Denver Nuggets may have lost in the end, but they proved they were a legitimate matchup for the Los Angeles Lakers tonight. LeBron James and Anthony Davis each played 38 minutes and wanted a win badly. The Nuggets clearly did not want the win as badly as none of Denver’s starters reentered the game in the fourth quarter once again. Michael Malone said he was going to be cognizant of the minute workload the Nuggets starters have bore over the last several games, and he was true to his word in keeping those minutes low.
The Lakers might have won, but there were many positive takeaways for the Nuggets tonight. Here are five takeaways of mine:
Jamal Murray’s post moves were fun
It was a brief blip at the beginning of the third quarter, but Murray went to the post against Danny Green and absolutely dominated during that stretch. Posting up on the left block on three possessions, Murray went to a couple of different moves, including a turnaround fadeaway reminiscent of Kobe Bryant. He also used a hesitation move to get right by Green for a layup.
The Nuggets are a team that has so many matchup nightmares offensively, and it’s easy to overlook Murray, who at 6’4 doesn’t seem like a player who would be a post threat. Au contraire, Murray is now 11-of-14 on post ups during the 2019-20 season. He’s extremely efficient there and has put in a lot of work on the moves he displayed tonight. It may not be something he breaks out every game, but given the strength he added to his frame over quarantine, it makes sense to take advantage of a specific matchup when it presents itself. Tonight, surprisingly, it was Danny Green. The Lakers immediately switched 6’9 Kyle Kuzma onto Murray because of the matchup. That’s a big deal.
Denver needs to find more ways to get Porter shots when he’s hot
Michael Porter Jr. finished the game with 15 points tonight. He was a perfect 6-of-6 from the field and 3-of-3 from deep, hitting from all over the court and shooting with confidence.
Unfortunately, he only attempted six shots all game and just one in the third quarter. The Nuggets were successful offensively to be clear, but this is a relatively common trend with Porter now. There are several possessions that occur with Porter out there as either the primary or secondary scoring option when he doesn’t catch the ball in a scoring position. Sometimes, he doesn’t touch the ball at all.
The default play when Murray and Jokic are on the floor together is the Murray-Jokic pick and roll and two-man game they generally run. It produced great offense the entire night, but there will be nights when Murray or Jokic are struggling or have a poor matchup. Having some other go-to sets that include Porter as a scoring option will be vital in a playoff situation, something every player on the floor is comfortable with running in important minutes. Once Denver gets to that point, Porter will be fully integrated, and Denver can consistently go to a specific set when it seems like Porter has it going.
LeBron James and Anthony Davis were great, but not perfect
James struggled to open up this game and wasn’t attacking with efficiency like he normally does. It took LeBron getting hot from three-point range to really turn his shooting performance around. Though he scored 29 points and had 12 assists, they came with 21 field goal attempts, 10 free throws, and five turnovers. It wasn’t his most efficient basketball, and the Nuggets can credit Torrey Craig, Porter, and the entire bench unit for making him work for every shot.
Davis started the game off really strongly with 17 points in the first half. He had a put back dunk over Nikola Jokic as the halftime buzzer sounded and played above the rim during that stretch. For the rest of the game, he was merely “good” finishing with 27 points, six rebounds, and a plethora of blocks and steals as the Nuggets bench consistently attacked the rim in the fourth quarter.
The Lakers dynamic duo is dangerous, but they aren’t perfect. The Nuggets did a reasonably good job of limiting them, and Jerami Grant, perhaps their most versatile defensive piece, was out tonight. If Grant comes back, the Nuggets will have the opportunity to deploy him, Craig, Porter, and Paul Millsap more selectively in these matchups. Grant’s ability to switch will matter against the Lakers, I have no doubt.
Denver’s bench depth was on full display tonight
It was great to see the bench guys get extended run with a unit that made sense going against the Lakers’ starting group. Monte Morris, PJ Dozier, Keita-Bates-Diop, Bol Bol, and Mason Plumlee were fantastic in their extended run tonight. Each guy had moments of weakness, but the group as a whole went toe to toe with a Lakers starting unit that was trying its butt off every possession. The group combined for 61 points, 15 assists, and seven made three-pointers, doing a great impersonation of Denver’s starting unit.
Each guy had a moment or two where they stepped up and made some plays. Bol made the pass above, hit a three, and blocked a difficult transition layup from Dion Waiters. Plumlee was a magician as a passer and creates open looks for Morris and Dozier on several occasions. The two point guards ran the show and each hit threes. Even Bates-Diop got in on the action with some excellent cuts and a three-pointer of his own in the clutch.
The Nuggets were without Harris, Barton, and Grant tonight, and the depth was still on display. It was just an incredibly impressive performance from a group that struggled for much of their time in the bubble together. I think they found something with Morris, Dozier, Bol, and Plumlee out there offensively.
This team can compete with the Lakers at full strength
The “full strength” is a tremendous caveat, given that the Nuggets aren’t at full strength and may never get back to that point; however, the Nuggets have several weapons they can utilize with the starters and the bench to keep up with the Lakers offensively. Porter and Murray had it going today. It feels like Porter will never miss a shot ever again, and Murray’s three-pointer hasn’t come around in the bubble yet, but he’s only played two games. On the bench, Morris was excellent, as was Dozier. Throw in Will Barton and that group may have enough scoring to survive minutes without Murray or Jokic on the floor.
Given that Grant wasn’t out there, it’s hard to figure out just how vulnerable the Nuggets are against Davis. The Lakers big man will spend a lot of time at center in a playoff series, so Jokic will have to guard him then. If Davis is at power forward though, it appears that Paul Millsap may not be the best matchup for him. Millsap appeared very outmatched athletically, and that’s an issue against a skilled big like Davic. Grant will help there. How much remains to be seen.
But Torrey Craig did a reasonable job against LeBron. Porter will be tasked with guarding LeBron on switches as well. How well those two hold up against the King will likely determine Denver’s fate. If they can do what they did tonight, the Nuggets definitely have a chance. If LeBron finds another gear or two, Denver may not have enough offensively to match him.
Still, this was as encouraging a loss as there can be. Denver played well offensively, gave LeBron and AD enough to think about defensively, and the Lakers had to get 37 combined points on 24 shots from Kyle Kuzma and Dion Waiters to win this game by three.
Denver should not be scared anymore.