It was not the best season opener for the Denver Nuggets as they lost to a Utah Jazz team that frankly doesn’t project to be a very good team this year. With that being said, the Jazz did play like the better team last night and showed the Nuggets they still have a ton of things to work on.
You never expect to play perfect basketball right out of the gate, but the Nuggets often looked over matched for most of the game last night and didn’t play with the intensity you would like to see in a season opener. The good news is they still have 81 games to play before the playoffs begin, but it’s never too early to have some takeaways now that regular season basketball is back.
Nikola Jokic proved his preseason scoring was just a fluke
A lot of people had doubts following a preseason in which Jokic averaged just seven points per game while attempting just eight shots, but last night showed that the back-to-back league MVP isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Jokic scored 27 points on an efficient 12-of-17 shooting from the field to go along with six rebounds, four assists, and three steals.
Jokic played like his dominant self and was the only real reason why Denver still had a chance once the fourth quarter rolled around. Not only did Jokic play assertive on the offensive end of the floor, but the three steals really stood out to me in regards to his defense. Jokic didn’t play a perfect game defensively, but his activity on that end of the floor was a welcomed sight to see and his ability to steal the ball opens up a ton of fast break opportunities.
It was also nice to still see Jokic get up 17 shots even with Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. back in the mix. Jokic attempted a career-high 18 shots per game last season, so it was nice to see him continue to stay aggressive and bounce back after a tough preseason offensively.
One of the biggest concerns I have surrounding the Nuggets following their opener is their ability to score from beyond the arc. The Nuggets shot just 5-of-22 from three, while the Jazz shot 16-of-38 from three. That — mixed with some other things — is the difference between the Nuggets winning and losing last night’s game.
Not only did the Nuggets not shoot the ball well from three — just 22 percent — but they did not attempt as many threes as you would like to see. Just 22 three-point attempts with the roster they have in place is unacceptable, especially with the additions Denver made this offseason.
Kantavious Caldwell-Pope and Bruce Brown combined to shoot 0-of-4 from three and those four three-point attempts between the two of them is a number that needs to go up. If the Nuggets were driving to the hole and shooting more free-throws it would be one thing, but they were also out shot and out scored in that department 17-of-18 for Denver and 23-of-31 for the Jazz.
I believe the Nuggets can be a solid defensive team when the effort is there, but that lack of effort is when they get beat and that happened far too often last night. The Nuggets allowed 37 and 38 points respectively in the first two quarters, which really put them behind the 8-ball coming out of halftime.
Denver’s defense really improved in the third quarter as they played with much greater intensity and only allowed 19 points. It allowed the Nuggets to get back into the game, but in the fourth quarter their poor defense from the first half returned and they were outscored 29-22 in the period.
In a game where the Nuggets scored just 102 points, they desperately needed to rely on their defense, which did not perform at the level it needed to in order to be successful. The Nuggets have another tough matchup tomorrow night when they square off against the Golden State Warriors, which should be a good test on what team they want to be on the defensive end of the floor.
Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. are still finding their rhythm
It was a step in the right direction for both Murray and Porter as they showed flashes of greatness and moments where they are still trying to shake off the rust. Porter finished as the Nuggets third leading scorer behind Jokic (27) and Aaron Gordon (22) with 15 points on 5-of-10 shooting from the field. Porter shot 2-of-4 from three and hauled in seven rebounds, but did commit four turnovers, which tied with Jokic for the team-high.
Murray on the other hand looked to have tweaked his ankle at one point in the game, but was able to stay in finishing with 12 points on 5-of-13 shooting from the field. The biggest difference between Murray and Porter’s game was Porter played 35 minutes while Murray played just 26 minutes.
It will be interesting to see how the Nuggets handle Murray with a back-to-back on Friday and Saturday. I wouldn’t be surprised if Murray sat the first leg on Friday night against the Warriors and returned to action Saturday night in the Nuggets first home game against the Oklahoma City Thunder.