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Denver Nuggets Film Friday: Do sweat the small things

NBA: Washington Wizards at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-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.

There’s an old saying that says don’t sweat the small stuff. That rings true in some aspects of life, but it’s not true in all of them. In the NBA, the small things are the aspects of the game that separate the good teams from the great teams. The best teams have efficient offenses and good defenses while taking care of the ball. The best teams also don’t drop games to bad teams.

Last year, the Denver Nuggets were 26-8 against teams that finished below .500. That mark was tied for the 4th-best mark in the league. No one went undefeated against bad teams. The best record was the Philadelphia 76ers who went 30-6 in games against sub .500 teams. No one is going to be perfect in that win column. In fact, considering the best teams are also able to beat other good teams, the Nuggets being one of eight teams to have an above .500 record against teams over .500 showed just how good they were.

In the 2021-22 season, Denver has to work on eliminating those bad games against bad teams. There’s no room for error in a crowded Western Conference that has a lot of teams vying to host a playoff spot. Denver can’t afford to drop all three games to a Sacramento Kings’ franchise that hasn’t made the playoffs since the 2005-06 season. Losing both games to the Washington Wizards can’t happen. Rather than looking ahead to a tough opponent on Thursday, focus on your game on Tuesday against the team picking top five. Sweat the small stuff.

Knock the Crown Down

Since taking over as the head coach of the Nuggets, Michael Malone has a 10-10 record against his former team the Sacramento Kings. For whatever reason, he just can’t get this monkey off of his back. In the two seasons prior to last year, he was a combined 5-1 against his old team, and it looked like he was turning the corner. Then, his team went 0-3, including an overtime loss at home to open the season. On this play above, Will Barton gets beat by his man. If you go back and watch any of the games Sacramento last season, that was a pretty common theme. On this play though, we see the negative reaction it causes. With Barton out of position, Nikola Jokic has to step up which opens a passing lane and gives Richaun Holmes a clean look. Holmes was on a mission against Denver last year. He had a +13.5 net rating. That was his fifth-best mark against any team, and the other four were all teams that picked in the lottery of this year’s draft. Jokic has made strides as a defender, but he still shouldn’t be put into multiple situations as a primary rim protector or switcher.

Get used to seeing Pro-P.J. Dozier comments in these articles. The guy is good, and he needs to be on the floor more. Dozier only played in two of the three games against the Kings last year, and he had a negative plus/minus in both games. However, he had a positive net rating in both because, while the team may have been struggling with him out there, he was excelling on an individual level. Dozier has come along as a shot creator, and this play is an example of that. He’s not the best outside shooter, but Marvin Bagley still has to guard him out there. Dozier has the speed advantage, and he lets Bagley get too close before driving to the rim for the layup. With Murray still on the shelf rehabbing his knee injury, Dozier should see a big minutes uptick to start the season.

You Don’t Have to be Magical

Denver went 0-2 against the Wizards last season. In those two losses, they had a combined margin of defeat of four points. This year’s Wizards team already has a number of differences with Kyle Kuzma and Spencer Dinwiddie now in the starting lineup, along with super-scorer Bradley Beal. Denver’s on-ball defense is going to be under an even more intense microscope than before. One small thing that would help would be Dozier being active, as he missed both games last season. On this play, we see Monte Morris get beat off the dribble, and that simply can’t happen against this group. Whether it’s Beal or Dinwiddie, there isn’t somewhere that Morris can be hidden while he’s on the floor. Beal makes a quick drive to his right, and Morris just never has a chance. There were multiple times throughout the game where he constantly looked slow to slide side-to-side as if he was dealing with a groin or hip injury. If he’s fully healthy and moving that way, we have a bigger problem.

The Nuggets’ first matchup with the Wizards will take place in December, and Murray will likely be out for that matchup. With that in mind, they’ll need someone to step up alongside Jokic to be the primary source of offense, and that needs to be Michael Porter Jr. The forward is heading into his third season of play, and he’s already become one of the best shooting forwards in the NBA, as he’s shooting 43.9 percent from 3-point range for his career. Against the Wizards, he was a combined 5-of-14 from 3-point range in two games. He has to be more than just a spot-up shooter now. He needs to get to the rim where his size and athleticism make him a mismatch for defenses. On this play, he’s being guarded by 6’5” shooting guard Garrison Matthews. Matthews puts up a little resistance, but, ultimately, Porter just is simply too strong to be held back. With his outside shooting and jumping ability inside, Porter has to step up against a Wizards’ defense that won’t have the defensive-minded forwards to slow him down.

Clip Those Wings

Last year, the Nuggets went 2-1 against the New Orleans Pelicans. They won and lost a game by five points each, and they won the final matchup by two. Over the last two seasons, they’re 3-3 against that squad, and they should be up more in the series against this team. New Orleans is a disjointed group that can’t find an identity while Denver is the only Western Conference team to finish as a top four seed in three straight seasons. Aaron Gordon might be the single most important player in this matchup. Gordon’s primary responsibility will be guarding Zion Williamson, and he’s expected to be this team’s defensive lynchpin. Williamson is the guy New Orleans wants to run their offense through, and it makes a lot of sense given the mismatch he presents. On this play, Gordon is guarding Williamson down on the block, and he does every step correctly. He doesn’t lose his position, and he keeps Williamson out of the paint before forcing him into the tough hook shot falling away from the rim. He’s not going to win every battle in this matchup, but he needs to win as many as he can, especially in transition where Williamson is the most dangerous.

The straw to stir this drink is Jokic. This team will go only as far as he is able to take them, as we saw last year in the playoffs when he just didn’t have enough in his arsenal to knock off the Phoenix Suns. Against the Pelicans though, Jokic is a mismatch on the offensive end. The Pelicans tend to play a smaller big at the center spot, and it hurts them immensely against physical centers like Jokic. As a result of the mismatch, they have to send help from other players. When that happens, Jokic is a good enough passer to hit the open shooter. On this play, he’s being guarded by Willy Hernangomez. Willy has good size at 6’11” and 250 pounds, but he just can’t keep Jokic away from the cup. With Jokic working his way towards the basket, Eric Bledsoe is forced to overhelp from his man. This leaves Facundo Campazzo open for the 3-point shot. When Jokic is in the game, getting him the ball on the block is how nearly every possession should start. If the defense gives him a one-on-one matchup, he can get any shot he would like. If they send help, it’s up to the shooters to knock down their open looks.

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.