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Denver Nuggets Film Friday: Now you’re all in big trouble

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NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Denver Nuggets Ron Chenoy-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.

Through the first 25 games of the season, the Denver Nuggets were struggling. They couldn’t get out of their own way, and they were hovering in the back part of the Western Conference playoff picture with a record of 14-11 having them seventh place in the West. Since February 14, they’ve been on a 10-5 run, which includes winning eight of their last 10 which started on February 23rd. Now, they’re rolling which they can parlay towards more success as they move up the conference standings.

Across every team’s last 10 games, the Nuggets own the NBA’s third-best net rating with a 10.7. That’s a 6.9 point bump over their rating through the team’s first 30 games and a 6.6 point bump since February 14th. This team dealt with injuries for much of the first two and a half months of the season, and, now that they’re largely healthy, they’re punching with the best teams in the NBA. (Sidenote: It’s magical what happens when you have the majority of your roster on the floor rather than on the bench.)

The Nuggets’ schedule is also one of the easier ones remaining. They’ve played the league’s 11th-toughest schedule to this point, but they have the seventh-easiest based on current NBA standings. It happens every year that a team starts the year slow for one reason or another, but they start playing their best ball in the second half of the year. The only team in the West that had a more difficult schedule than the Nuggets while being ahead of them in the standings is the Utah Jazz. Denver is ready to start reeling everyone in with how they’re playing right now.

Michael Porter Jr. Season is Here

It’s very possible that Michael Porter Jr. had the worst possible start to the season that he could have hoped for. Porter tested positive for Covid-19 which resulted in his absence from 10 straight games that saw the Nuggets go 6-4, including close losses to the Phoenix Suns, Utah Jazz and Brooklyn Nets. His net rating through February 14th was 2.2, which was the lowest of any player on the squad averaging at least 10 minutes per game. Now, since February 14th, his net rating is 12.1, which is second behind only R.J. Hampton, who has only played eight games during that stretch. Porter is the only player that has a top four mark in offensive and defensive ratings during that stretch. His defense has improved, but it’s his offense that matters most. His ability to hit shots from anywhere opens the offense for everyone. Use this shot against the Charlotte Hornets as an example. Ball movement and penetration by Will Barton force the defense to collapse, and it gives Porter plenty of room to step up and drain a wide-open jumper.

His offense is great, and it’s fantastic that he’s playing so much better at this point in the season. However, from 2019-20 to 2020-21, his defense has without a doubt taken the biggest jump. During the playoffs, Porter was the guy every opponent was looking to attack. Now, while he’s not a lockdown defender, he’s not an automatic bucket when he’s on defense. On this play, Malcolm Brogdon gets a step on him in transition, but he keeps his feet moving before rising up for the block. If Porter can keep this up, Denver is going to put other team’s in some difficult situations on a nightly basis.

Jamal Murray Wasn’t a Fluke

When Murray was colder for the first 25 games of the season, the belief was that his stretch of white-hot play in the playoffs was a fluke. While he’s not shooting the nearly 50 percent from 3-point range that he was during the first two rounds of the playoffs last season, he’s only slightly behind that mark at 47 percent from 3-point range on 7.7 attempts per game since February 14th. His ability to take over a game late from 3-point range is something no one else on the roster has. Porter can get hot, but he doesn’t have the dribbling skills Murray does at this stage of his career.

Down late and need a 3-point basket? Murray’s your guy. Jokic has been arguably the best clutch player in the NBA over the last two seasons as he’s shooting over 55 percent from the field over the last season and a half. Murray is shooting 54.5 percent from the 3-point line in the final three minutes of games separated by five points or less. The shot he made in this game was wild. It tied the game to send it to overtime in a game the Nuggets went on to win in double overtime. The game seems like a throwaway win in the middle of January, but that takeover bucket could be the difference in hosting or traveling for a playoff series.

Jokic’s Life is Getting Easier

There have been moments in games over the last two seasons where this team looked like they were only going to be able to go as far as Jokic could drag them. Now, there are nights where it looks like Jokic is the guy that’s good enough to play in the NBA, but he’s playing with his hometown friends at the YMCA. He’s being guarded by Myles Turner right here who is one of the best defensive players in the NBA. Jokic just looks around the floor surveying and lulling Turner to sleep before knocking down the simple 10-foot jumper. He hits this exact shot at least once a game, and the moment never matters. He’ll hit it in the clutch, or he’ll hit it in the middle of the first quarter to get his scoring rolling.

Some players peak early. Jokic is proving that, not only did he not peak too early, he’s only getting better with more time. In the win over the Charlotte Hornets, he went 6-of-7 on the night for 12 points, and he still recorded a triple-double because the rest of the team was making his life so easy. On this play, he could catch the ball for another easy mid-range jumper. Instead, he essentially does a tip-pass to Paul Millsap under the cup for the easy basket. When Denver can beat a team currently in the playoff race with Jokic only dropping 12 points and winning by 25, they are going to be very dangerous.

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.