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Film Friday: It’s time for a run

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Indiana Pacers Trevor Ruszkowski-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.

Rested from a week off at the All-Star break, the Denver Nuggets should be looking to come out firing on all cylinders. After a tough stretch over the first few weeks of February, they went into the break rolling with four wins in six nights, including a 31-point drubbing of the fully healthy Milwaukee Bucks on the road. Coming out, it’s time to start the run that everyone has been hoping to see from this team that has been inconsistent since the start of the year.

Denver’s longest winning streak of the season thus far is five games which came during an eight day stretch in January. In the 2019-20 season, they experienced two winning streaks of six or more games, and they should be trying to add one of those to the tally for this season starting with some wins out of the break. The Western Conference isn’t quite as crowded as the Eastern Conference, but the Nuggets should look to put some separation between themselves and the bottom half of the teams out West.

Denver is poised to have the fourth-easiest schedule based on current NBA records, and they need to take advantage of that. In the Western Conference, the Utah Jazz is the only team ahead of them in the standings with an easier schedule. This team has the chance to prove a point to the rest of the league, and this is how they’re going to get that point proven.

3rd-Quarter Improvements

Denver is the 8th-worst team in the NBA in 3rd-quarter net rating at -4.7. That simply has to improve in the second half of the season. Far too often, Denver gives up easy and open looks coming out of the locker room. This is a big issue for a few reasons. For one, teams can cut into a lead Denver built going into the break, or they can build on their own lead. Plays like this one against the Indiana Pacers can’t happen. Will Barton overhelps on the driver, and he leaves way too much space for Justin Holiday for the easy triple. Mistakes like this have to be fixed to end the season.

The offense can’t be lazy. This goes for the entire game, but, coming out of the break, you should be firing on all cylinders with schemed-up plays. You shouldn’t be settling for contested 3-point jumpers with 15 seconds still left on the shot clock. Bring the offense out of the locker room hot and working for you not against you with bad shots like this one from P.J. Dozier. He’s a decent shooter at 39 percent from 3-point range, but that’s not the shot you want him taking in that situation.

Jamal Murray stays in his bubble

Something clicked for Jamal Murray over the last 10 games before the All-Star Break. Prior to February 14th, he was averaging 18.5 points per game while shooting 44.2 percent from the floor and 34 percent from 3-point range. From February 15th through today, he’s scoring 29.5 points per game with a slashline of .574/.506/.929. This is the Murray we were seeing in the bubble last year during the NBA restart. He needs to stay right in that pocket. Certain players just glow white hot when they see a couple of shots go in, and Murray is one of them. After struggling through the first three quarters of the team’s win over the Portland Trail Blazers, he poured in 19 of his 24 points while shooting 60 percent from the field including this sweet stepback jumper over Carmelo Anthony.

This shot isn’t going to seem that big in the grand scheme thing of things. It’s 3-point make in a game the Nuggets were already winning by 16, but, if you look closely at the context, you’ll see why it matters a little more than normal. For one, look at the lineup around Murray. He’s surrounded by four reserves in Facundo Campazzo, JaMychal Green, R.J. Hampton and Vlatko Čančar. The Lakers still had LeBron James and other closing-lineup players on the floor. Murray’s ability to lead the second unit has been in question at times, and it’s plays like this, among others, that he needs to make on a regular basis coming out of the break.

Who’s going to be the third guy?

The Brookly Nets have their big three of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden. The Milwaukee Bucks have Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday. Who is going to be the third guy for Denver? We’ve seen moments where it looked like Will Barton or Michael Porter Jr. were going to claim that role. At this point, it doesn’t matter who does, but one of them needs to. Barton has struggled after a great 2019-20 season, but he also has shown flashes of being able to be that guy again. Against the Nets earlier this year, with the rest of the team struggling, he took over to keep them in the game going 3-of-4 from 3-point range in the fourth quarter. He’s a good-enough ball handler to be your third guy, but can he do it every night?

If it’s not going to be Barton, it needs to be Porter. The third-year man out of Missouri has had bursts here and there that show off his massive offensive potential. The problem has been his consistency. He’ll have games as he did against the Pacers where he went 9-of-14 for 24 points, but he also will have games like the one against the Boston Celtics where he went 0-of-8 and failed to score while being a defensive liability. This shot against the Oklahoma City Thunder is just a small thing he does well. He uses the screen to generate a little separation, and his height and high release allow him to get off a clean look. His defense has improved this season. It’s just a matter of him putting it together on an every night basis to really bolster the team’s star duo of Jokic and Murray.

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.