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Denver Nuggets Film Friday: All hands on deck

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Portland Trail Blazers Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

If you’re not familiar with Film Fridays, each Friday, I’ll be looking at some recent Denver Nuggets’ games, lineups or something else from a film aspect to try and bring you a piece of content that you’re not getting somewhere else. Feel free to give any feedback positive or negative in the comments or find me on Twitter.

The Denver Nuggets have played 18 games this season, and they’re likely already wishing for the season to be over. Every night, there seems to be another injury to a key player, and we all wake up the following morning to the news that the injury is a serious one that could keep them sidelined for a good bit of time. After having their season derailed late last year due to injuries, the hope was that the luck would shift this year, but that has not been the case early on.

After 18 games, P.J. Dozier is out for the season with a torn ACL. Michael Porter Jr. could be sidelined for the remainder of the year with a nerve issue in his back, which he has already had two different surgeries on. Jamal Murray has yet to return from his torn ACL from last season, and we’ve also seen Will Barton, Nikola Jokic and Bones Hyland deal with injuries. That doesn’t even include Vlatko Cancar, who has only played three total minutes this season. With injuries everywhere and the ship taking on water, it’s time for everyone to band together, because this thing will fall apart otherwise.

Denver has lost five straight games, with four of the five being by 10 or more points and all five being against teams currently in the playoffs in their respective conferences. If the season ended today, Denver would be in a play-in game situation against the Sacramento Kings where they would have to win two games. In a crowded Western Conference, they can’t afford to let too many games slip.

Get to the Line

The Nuggets, especially without Porter, don’t have a ton of great shooters. They rank 26th in 3-point percentage and 22nd in 3-point shots made per game. In the free-throw category, it’s even worse. They’re 29th in attempts and makes per game and 25th in percentage. Jokic is the only player averaging more than 2.9 attempts per game from the stripe, and he and Jeff Green are the only two players with more than 50 total attempts so far this year. What do the best shooters do when their outside shot isn’t falling? They drive to the rim. Take a look at Green on this play. He’s shot 33.9 percent from 3-point range in his career, but he’s shooting just 25 percent this season. He’s responded by working more around the rim despite being undersized at 6’8” and 235 pounds. He puts up the shot and misses but stays with it. He snags his own rebound and is ready to go back up. He draws the foul and ends up making a pair of free ones. He had a season-high of 24 points on the night, and his first two were at the line. It just takes seeing a shot fall to get yourself rolling.

Jokic ends up missing the free throw on this play, but it’s the play itself that matters. For one, the Philadelphia 76ers are forced to foul him because they have no chance of getting in his way. For two, fouls add up after a while. Being aggressive and attacking the defense, puts the referees in a compromising situation. If they don’t want to give Jokic the call when he gets slapped, Jokic can use his physicality to bump the defender out of the way without being called for the offensive foul. Be aggressive inside, and work towards the basket to get free shots at the stripe.

Get Those Loose Balls

Through 18 games, the Nuggets rank 28th in loose balls recovered per game. They are 20th in steals and just 26th in rebounding. They’re 24th in offensive rebounds per game after being 8th in that statistic last year. With Porter, who is an underrated rebounder, out, everyone else has to step up. This offensive snag by Dozier really should be credited to Zeke Nnaji, who was dealing with his own injury for a while, but it ends up in the stat sheet for Dozier. Dozier puts up the shot, and, rather than rushing back on defense, he kind of lingers and moves towards the basket. Once he sees the ball get tipped out by Zeke, he snatches it up and slides in for the easy dunk. That’s an extra two points that adds up at the end of a close game.

Denver loses this game, and they’re losing by a decent margin when this steal happens. However, again, it’s about what the play can do. A steal that turns into a fast break bucket on the other end can swing the tide of a game, especially at home during a close game. It can get your fans in the game, or it can take your opponents out. Barton doesn’t do much to get the steal here. He’s just kind of standing, and the ball finds him when Deandre Ayton gets to loose with it. He doesn’t hesitate to start the fast break, and Denver gets an easy two points on the play. Loose balls add up, and Denver needs to start putting a few more into their column.

Buy All The Way In

It’s Black Friday here in the US, which is a day where money is flying out of everyone’s wallets in search of the best deals of the year. Right now, the passion and energy from everyone on the team needs to be flying into the system that the Nuggets are trying to run. Rather than trying to play hero ball, everyone needs to embrace a San Antonio Spurs dynasty mentality where everyone wants everyone else to succeed. Jokic as an offensive hub will have spurts here and there where it fully works, but it doesn’t get deployed consistently in the game. Until Murray returns, it should be more frequently called with his ability to set up his teammates. On this play, you have Jokic at the elbow with a smaller defender guarding him. When he has the ball, everyone is watching him, and it lulls off-ball defenders to sleep. Rather than just standing around and watching, everyone is moving which is how Barton flashes towards the rim and gets an easy dunk.

Monte Morris has never been known as an elite defender, but, with injuries to everyone else, he has to step his game up a bit. On this play here, Luka Doncic is backing him all the way down towards the rim. When he turns to go for the shot, Morris is there to shut him down with the swipe of the ball to get the block. Little plays like that swing games, especially if you can shut down the possession without a foul. Everyone has to do a little more now to hold it all together.

For those of you that are still here, remember to leave your feedback in the comments or over on my Twitter, and have a fantastic film-filled Friday.