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Mile Highs and Lows: A recap of the Denver Nuggets in March

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The Denver Nuggets not only had an impressive record of 11-3 this month, but they also made a big trade to put themselves one step closer to the top tier of teams in the NBA

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

An NBA fan can’t expect much more from their team than what Nuggets fans received in the month of Month. Not only did the team have a very successful month in terms of wins, but we also got to see our team participate in a very entertaining trade deadline, as well as compete in some very close and exciting games behind some impressive performances from the players. The Nuggets started their month still on a four-game road trip, and won all three of the final games of that trip before the All-Star break tipped off. Then, we got to see Nikola Jokic represent the organization in yet another all-star game, this time as a starter. When the team returned to action, they won a close game against the Memphis Grizzlies and then embarked on a five-game homestand in which they went 3-2, losing the first and last game of the homestand against the Dallas Mavericks and the New Orleans Pelicans, respectively. The team then unfortunately had a surprisingly lackluster performance against the subpar Toronto Raptors, getting blown out in the game right before the trade deadline.

That’s when things got interesting, though. The Nuggets made some big moves and acquired Aaron Gordon from the Orlando Magic. Now the Nuggets have a month and a half left of regular season games to try to perfect the chemistry and rotations before entering the playoffs and competing for a championship with one of the best starting lineups in the entire league. Hopefully April is a kind month to the Nuggets, because they need to continue climbing the standings in an extremely competitive Western Conference if they want to put themselves in the best position possible when the playoffs start.

Record in March: 11-3

Overall record: 29-18

Highlight of the Month: Jamal Murray hits unbelievable game-tying three-pointer against Chicago Bulls

Jamal Murray’s specialty this season seems to be hitting incredible three-pointers at the buzzer to force overtime. In January, he hit a very difficult three to tie the game and send the game to overtime against the Phoenix Suns. On March 19th, he had yet another incredible shot to force overtime, this one against the Chicago Bulls. The Nuggets got the ball with 16 seconds to go in the game, down three points. The Nuggets’ two-man game of Jokic and Murray then took effect as the two players winded down the clock before Murray made an incredible shot fake to escape Thaddeus Young’s defense. He then side-stepped to a different location behind the three-point line and let one fly. No real surprise to anybody that watched him in the bubble, it went in, allowing the Nuggets to fight in overtime to get a much-needed win.

Game of the Month: Denver Nuggets (131) vs. Chicago Bulls, March 19, 2020 (127)

Even before Murray’s shot, this game was as entertaining as they come. The Nuggets were trailing by 14 points with 7.5 minutes to go in the fourth quarter. That was when their defense buckled down and their offense started clicking, behind some great plays by Murray, Jokic, and Michael Porter Jr. After the Nuggets finally achieved a lead behind a three-pointer from Murray with just under three minutes to go, the Bulls were able to once again take full control of the game by going up six with 45.6 seconds remaining. A Jokic three-pointer, a Murray layup, and a Facu Campazzo steal then set the stage for Murray’s attempt at a game-tying three to send the game into overtime. In the extra quarter, the Nuggets then pulled away and won, 131-127. It was a game reminiscent of the many comebacks the team had in the bubble, and it was sure fun to watch.

Player of the month: Nikola Jokic

The least surprising thing that happened this month was Jokic continuing to make a case for MVP of the 2020-2021 season. In a month in which Joel Embiid and LeBron James both went down with injuries that will keep them out for extended periods of time, Jokic seems to be strengthening his case for the most prestigious individual award given out at the end of the season. Jokic is quite literally leading the Nuggets in all of the major categories, doing so in a very efficient and impactful way. The biggest weakness to the argument for Jokic getting the MVP award has so far been the Nuggets’ record, but the team definitely has an opportunity to climb the standings from now until the end of the season. They currently sit in the fifth seed, but with the Los Angeles Lakers and the Los Angeles Clippers battling injuries to key players, the Nuggets are in a prime position to take advantage. If Jokic earns yet another Player of the Month for his performance in March, just add that to his resume and the list of reasons that he should absolutely be a top candidate, if not the leading candidate, for the MVP.

Story of the Month: The Nuggets are active at the trade deadline, acquire Aaron Gordon from the Orlando Magic

The Denver Nuggets have spent the past few seasons being relatively quiet at the trade deadline, often choosing to stick with the same core they started the season with in their final push for the playoffs. This season, however, the front office seems to have sent a message to the rest of the league that the team is all in on trying to compete for a championship now, rather than later. On March 25th, the day of the trade deadline, the Nuggets first traded Isaiah Hartenstein to the Cleveland Cavaliers for JaVale McGee, a former Nugget who was a staple to the 57-win team back in 2013. Then, they made a much bigger splash, trading their longest tenured player in Gary Harris to the Orlando Magic, along with R.J. Hampton and a first-round pick, for Aaron Gordon.

Gordon, who had requested a trade from the Magic previously, was highly coveted around the league, so it would have been not all that surprising for the Nuggets to lose out on the opportunity of adding a two-way player with Gordon’s athleticism and talent to another team, like the Boston Celtics. Being able to offer Hampton, a young player with enormous potential, helped sweeten the deal for the Nuggets, however, and they now have an extremely intriguing and, so far, impactful starting lineup. In the two games that we’ve seen with Aaron Gordon in the mix, it’s hard not to feel extremely encouraged about the potential. It’s clear that Gordon brings defensive versatility, athleticism, and an ability to space the floor that the Nuggets desperately needed going into the playoffs. It sure does feel good to finally come away with the prize at the deadline. While it’s extremely sad to see Harris, a consummate professional in his 7 years with the Nuggets, leave Denver to join another team, you can’t help but wonder if Gordon is indeed the last piece to the puzzle for the Nuggets.

Surprise of the month: Aaron Gordon didn’t need much time to gel with his new team

It’s no surprise that Aaron Gordon was going to be a starter on this team eventually. As mentioned previously, his skillset and defense are much too valuable to bring him off the bench, even with so many capable players in the front court on this team. Still, it was a little surprising when Michael Malone opted to waste no time in integrating Gordon into the starting lineup in his very first game with the team. Then, Gordon himself wasted no time in making an immediate impact. In his first game with the Nuggets in their matchup against the Atlanta Hawks, he scored 13 points on an efficient 6/9 shooting, in only 20 minutes. Gordon seemed to fit in seamlessly with Jokic and the rest of the squad. He made cuts to get open for a Jokic pass, hit a three, showed some good midrange game, and had a great defensive effort as well.

What’s even more impressive is how the Nuggets looked overall as a starting lineup. They won in a blowout against the Hawks, and dominated through the first three quarters of Gordon’s second game, against the Philadelphia 76ers. Although the team had a letdown in the fourth quarter against the 76ers, they were still able to win that one. It can’t be easy for a team to integrate a new starter into the lineup on the fly, but the Nuggets seem to be doing just fine with the challenge so far.

Grade for the month: A

What’s new on Denver Stiffs:

The Denver Stiffs had you covered for all of the events that transpired this past month. Here’s just some of those highlights.

In his debut piece for the Denver Stiffs, Tommy Knowlton takes a look at some of the ways in which the Nuggets can inch closer to contending for a championship

Brandon Ewing makes the argument in this article for why Nikola Jokic should be the frontrunner for the MVP award

Ryan Blackburn takes a look at just how good the Nuggets’ “Big Three” have been this past month

How much closer does Aaron Gordon put the Nuggets to their goal of winning an NBA championship? Brandon Ewing dives into this question in this piece

Ryan Blackburn breaks down the most impressive parts of Aaron Gordon’s debut with the Nuggets in this article

Even before the Nuggets made the trade to send Gary Harris off to Orlando in order to acquire Gordon, Ryan Blackburn took the time in this episode of his podcast to pay tribute to Gary Harris and Will Barton, whose names were both swirling in trade rumors leading up to the deadline

Brandon Ewing took the time in this piece to acknowledge the contributions that Gary Harris made on this team during their rebuilding years and their eventual return to relevancy

Gage Bridgford broke down the ways in which Aaron Gordon is a great addition to this team after news broke of his acquisition on the day of the trade deadline