Well, the Nuggets are in trouble now.
The Denver Nuggets margin for error continues to shrink after a horrible loss to the Phoenix Suns. Now down 2-0, Game 3 is a must-win. Both teams struggled shooting in the first half, but the Suns found their stroke again in the 3rd. Denver couldn’t equal their production and haven’t been able to all series.
With that being said, this series isn’t over yet. Denver has come back from worse deficits and they do return home on Friday. That’s the positive side of things, but Denver’s confidence is shot right now and with a laboring Michael Porter Jr., Phoenix smells blood in the water. If the Nuggets don’t make any changes this could be a very short series.
The injuries are starting to catch up to Denver
Well, it was a nice ride. Jokic was carrying this team daily since the Murray inury, and it hasn’t really caught up to them until now. Phoenix is too deep and too good of a defensive team to just have one or two scorers carry the load. Denver needs scoring from just about every one of their starters and rotational players to match Phoenix. The issue right now is they’re not even getting secondary scoring and definitely no tertiary scoring. Will Barton was a nice punch off the bench, but his minute restriction will hinder his potential in this series. Hopefully, he is offered more minutes because the Nuggets are desperate for someone to put the ball in the hoop.
The Suns seem to have the right defensive plan to guard Denver. They're not going to double Jokic in the post, but once he makes his move they converge in the paint. Sometimes that can work in Denver's favor, but their perimeter players aren’t making shots. Jokic was 9-17 tonight meanwhile the rest of the starters were 9-32. Look for Denver to mix up their offensive game plan a bit on Friday.
Bad shot selection
Denver shot 22 threes in the first half and only made four of them. The Suns are converging the paint and daring the Nuggets to shoot and it is working right now. Unfortunately, Denver does not have a lot of effective driving scorers right now. PJ Dozier would help tremendously in that category but we might not see him in this series.
They got Ayton in foul trouble early which worked in their favor, but they were not able to channel that same activity in the second half. Jokic tallied 4 assists in the first quarter because Ayton’s absence opened up the whole floor, but by the time he returned Phoenix was on a role. The Nuggets started to get more aggressive to the paint towards the end, but it was way too little too late at that point.
Time for MPJ to show he’s better than Mikal Bridges
Nugget fans and many around the NBA landscape view MPJ as the better player, but he is not showing it right now. Bridges is starring in his role right now while MPJ is disappearing in his. In the first half, he went 0-5 from three and only took one shot inside the arc in which he also missed. You look at Will Barton and his first shot was a dunk. This opened up his game and his confidence as he played well tonight. MPJ should consider taking a page out of that book.
The back could be bothering him as well. He tweaked it last game and he does not appear to move the same. He looked stiff, slow, and avoided moving without the basketball. Denver doesn’t have a chance if Porter continues these types of performances. If he is injured, we could see Malone excluding him from the lineup because he is too important to Denver’s future.
Their best players are outplaying Denver’s best players
Chris Paul is controlling nearly every possession on offense and facilitates an open shot nine out of ten times. He recorded 17 points and 15 assists without a turnover. He’s been the most important player this series and Denver has no answer or match for his production Like Jokic, he makes everybody better, but Phoenix’s role players are making the open shots Denver is missing. I wouldn't say Ayton is necessarily outplaying Jokic but he is matching his production and has been a huge factor defensively.
I say their best players are performing better than Denver’s but really every one of their players are. Aaron Gordon has been the most consistent Nugget, which is definitely an issue considering he is not one of Denver’s top three scorers. Jokic is doing what he can, and he played well tonight, but these two losses are not on him. Morris was a massive factor against Portland, and now he has disappeared. Austin Rivers produced last series as well but we haven't seen the same version of him. To get at least one win in this series, the role players will have to regain their energy and production.
The offense is predictable
If we compare the offenses, Phoenix’s offense is so much more diverse than Denver’s right now. Their running screen and roll with actions behind it. They are scheming open shots and it is working to perfection. Denver seems to avoid changes on the offensive end. They give the ball to Jokic in the post and nobody cuts. When they run high screening action, the ball handler and the screener seem to be the only ones moving. There is no activity behind the play, and that really hinders the Nugget offense considering their best player feeds off those types of possessions.
Michael Malone needs to make some changes. His players aren’t making any shots, so he needs to scheme easier looks. It is clear Denver is frustrated, so hopefully they can take that aggression and manifest it into effective offense and defense. For now, the Nuggets are in their most precarious spot since last year's Western Conference Finals. Phoenix is not unbeatable, but Denver is looking extremely vulnerable right now. They look to regain form Friday in Denver.