It has been a very trying month for the Denver Nuggets. There’s been injuries, a suspension, more injuries, a long losing streak, and even more injuries. While a 10-10 record 20 games into the season is far from ideal, Nikola Jokic is having another MVP season and many of the role players are living up to their potential. Where the Nuggets stand at the end of the regular season will depend a lot on how the team fares in the month of December, as they face a schedule that would be extremely tough even when fully healthy. The Nuggets’ six-game losing streak in November saw them fall out of the top 8 in the standings of the Western Conference, despite a five-game winning streak early in the month. Now, the Nuggets are in the early stages of a 7-game road trip. The Nuggets also face a lot of very tough opponents this month, including the Golden State Warriors twice and the Los Angeles Clippers and Brooklyn Nets on the road. If the team can survive this stretch without suffering any further injuries, it will be reasonable to feel some optimism about the season after a tough month of November.
Record in November: 6-8
Overall record: 10-10
Game of the Month: Denver Nuggets vs. Miami Heat, 11/29/21
The most important win of the season so far is the one that the team earned in order to snap their six-game losing streak after Nikola Jokic returned to the court following a four-game absence due to a wrist injury. The week leading up to this game contained a lot of heartbreak, disappointment, and pessimism for Nuggets fans as they learned that the team would most likely be without Michael Porter Jr. the rest of the season. Suddenly, we had to come to terms with the real possibility that this might be a team that has to fight just to get into the postseason, let alone make a run for a championship. However, Jokic seems to have single-handedly cured a lot of these feelings by just being himself in his return to the court. The offense flowed so much better with the MVP out there, and the team’s defense also looked dominant once again. Jokic finished with 24 points, 7 assists and 15 rebounds and the Heat had absolutely no answer for him. It was not just Joker helping the team, though. Every starter finished in double digits in scoring, and the team also got stellar bench performances off the bench from Facundo Campazzo (10 points on 4/7 shooting to go along with 5 assists), and Bones Hyland (19 points off of 5 made three pointers). Aaron Gordon, who has been having a spectacular season on both ends of the court, finished with 20 points, 5 assists and 4 rebounds.
Of course, this game was extremely hyped up because of the prior conflict between Markieff Morris and Jokic (more on that later). In the end, though, that did not play a factor in what made this game so fun to watch. The Nuggets simply got back to their winning ways after getting their MVP back, and could breathe a sigh of relief after snapping their long losing streak.
Highlight of the Month: Will Barton’s acrobatic layup against the Chicago Bulls, 11/19/2021
The highlight for November is brought to you by Will Barton in an incredibly impressive play against the Chicago Bulls. The play started with a quick spin by Barton, who had the ball in his hands, while being guarded by DeMar DeRozan. This move kept DeRozan a step or two behind as Barton made his move towards the basket. Then, Barton took the contact by Tony Bradley and contorted his body mid-air in order to finish the extremely impressive lay-up. It was an incredible play by Barton and one that certainly captivated the attention of basketball fans.
Player of the month: Nikola Jokic
At the end of the season, Nikola Jokic should receive some MVP votes. How many votes he receives is to be determined, but anybody that casts a vote for Jokic does not need to make a lengthy argument for why he deserves to win the award back-to-back. All you have to do is point to the month of November. Before Jokic suffered a wrist injury that kept him out of the lineup for four straight games, the Nuggets were 9-5. By the time Jokic returned to the floor against the Heat, their record had dropped to 10-9 due to a six-game losing streak. Sure, if the Nuggets had Michael Porter Jr., Jamal Murray, P.J. Dozier, and Bones Hyland for all of those games, then they could have won some of those games. But there’s no doubt that Jokic is the most important player of this team. When he plays, the team has a chance to win every night. When he doesn’t, especially with all of the other injuries they have, the team struggles mightily to stay afloat and win games.
This month, Jokic had one of the best halves of his career against the Philadephia 76ers on November 18th. At halftime, he had 27 points and was absolutely dominating the 76ers, who were without Joel Embiid. Of course, that was the game that Jokic injured his wrist, and he went on to only have 3 points in the second half. He finished with 30 points, 7 assists and 10 rebounds. Still, it was a perfect example of Jokic’s dominance. If he continues to put up performances like that, there’s no doubt that the Nuggets can secure a ticket to the playoffs even with all of their injuries. As he proved last year in the postseason, he might even be able to carry them farther than that.
Story of the Month: Injuries became too much for the team to handle
To start the season, the Nuggets already knew they would have to face some adversity being without their second best player, Jamal Murray, for most of the way. Things have gotten progressively more and more bleak. Three games into the month of November, in their match against the Houston Rockets, Michael Porter Jr. left the game early when he began to experience some discomfort in his lower back. Those were most likely his last minutes of the season, depending on the prognosis following the back surgery that he will undergo today to repair a nerve issue he has been having. That alone is a huge blow to a team that just signed Porter Jr. to a huge extension this past offseason and really counted on him to be the second option with Murray out.
The pesty injury bug did not stop biting after that, though. On November 17th, Bones Hyland tweaked his left ankle and had to leave the game against the Dallas Mavericks. He returned to play the next two games against the Philadelphia 76ers and the Chicago Bulls, but only scored 8 points combined in those games. He then tweaked his other ankle against the Phoenix Suns on November 21st, and was forced to sit out the next two games. Fortunately, Hyland made his return to the court on Monday against the Heat and had a phenomenal performance, scoring 19 points in only 20 minutes off of 5 made three pointers. Hyland will play a huge role going forward with the injuries this team will face, so it was good to see him bounce back in a big way. At the same time that Hyland was dealing with his ankle sprains, Zeke Nnaji also suffered an ankle sprain of his own that left him out of the lineup for four straight games. Prior to his injury, Nnaji had his best game of the season against the Indiana Pacers on November 10th and was in line to get some extended minutes in the upcoming stretch, so his being unavailable certainly did not help the Nuggets. Last but not least, P.J. Dozier suffered a torn ACL against the Portland Trail Blazers on November 23rd, and he will be out for the season. This is a huge blow to a bench unit that was already struggling to find rhythm. Now, the team will be forced to go on without one of their best perimeter defenders.
It’s hard to think of a team that has had worse luck in the injury department in the last two seasons than the Nuggets, but if there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that there will always be something to cheer for as long as we have the MVP on our squad.
Surprise of the month: Nikola Jokic earns a suspension for a hard foul
On November 8th, as the Nuggets were wrapping up a big win against the Miami Heat, Markieff Morris decided to commit a hard take foul against Jokic by slamming his elbow into his ribs. Jokic did not at all take kindly to that decision, and retaliated in a big way by shoving his arm into Morris’ back as Morris walked away from him. Commotion then ensued as multiple Heat players approached Jokic. It was a scary scene for a while after that, as Morris lay on the court in pain. Jokic’s reaction created a lot of controversy on social media, as many debated whether or not his act was called for. Jokic ended up being suspended one game, and Morris was fined $50,000 for the part that he played in causing the altercation. Ultimately, it was a play that, if you were watching live caused you to drop your mouth in absolute shock. Jokic has never been a player to back away from conflict, but the force of the hit was pretty surprising. Morris is still recovering from injuries that he sustained in that play, so hopefully he can come back healthy and everybody involved can put the incident behind them.
Grade for the month: C
What’s new on Denver Stiffs:
In this edition of “Film Friday,” Gage Bridgford looks at all of the ways the Nuggets are going to have to step up in order to survive this season after all the injuries.
If you need some optimism after this past week, listen to this edition of Ryan Blackburn’s “Pickaxe and Roll” podcast in which he makes the argument that the Nuggets can still compete for a championship this season, even with MPJ’s injury
In this great piece, Blackburn takes a look back at the most painful moments in Nuggets history following the news of MPJ’s injury
In this edition of “Film Friday,” Bridgford uses film to show just how dominant Jokic has been so far this season
In this edition of “The Sixth Man,” Knowlton analyzes the impact that Aaron Gordon has had and can have on the Nuggets this season
In this edition of “Stat of the Week,” Blackburn dives into what is so spectacular about Jokic’s play this season
In this piece, Gordon Gross examines how important it is to play with joy when playing basketball
Asher Levy makes the argument that Zeke Nnaji should get more opportunity to earn a regular spot in the rotation
Another “Film Friday” edition, this one taking a look at how important Will Barton has been to this team this season
This edition of “The SIxth Man” is focused on the Nuggets’ defensive prowess to start the season