The month of March in the Denver Nuggets’ regular season schedule is complete, and there are only five games remaining before the playoffs. Tons of questions still remain. What seed will the Nuggets earn? Who will they face? Will Jamal Murray or Michael Porter Jr. return? Will Nikola Jokic get back-to-back MVPs? What will the rotation look like in the playoffs? While all of these questions are yet to be answered, one thing is for sure. The Nuggets, despite all of the injuries they’ve had this season, are somehow in the 5th seed in a brutally tough Western Conference and are being lead by the top candidate in the MVP race. While there have been some not-so-fun parts of Month (some disappointing injury updates, a heartbreaking loss against the best team in the league (the Phoenix Suns), and a blow-out loss at home against the Boston Celtics, the Nuggets are in a good place considering circumstances. Now, fans can sit back and see how the end of the season unfolds. Hopefully, April is not the last month that we can watch our Nuggets in action.
Record in March: 10-6
Overall record: 46-31
Game of the Month: Denver Nuggets (114) vs. Philadelphia 76ers (110)
In what was one of the more anticipated regular season games in recent memory, the Denver Nuggets faced off against the Philadelphia 76ers on March 14th for a battle of the top two MVP candidates. With the Nuggets fighting to avoid the play-in, and the 76ers within range of the top seed in the East, both teams had a ton to play for in terms of the standings. Still, it was no secret that fans tuned into this game in order to see which superstar would come out on top. To open the game, Joel Embiid absolutely dominated as his team got off to an early lead. In fact, they lead the Nuggets by 15 points at the end of the first quarter, and it looked like the game would fail to provide fans with the excitement that they were hoping for prior to tip-off. However, the Nuggets clawed their way back into the game fairly quickly, and by halftime, it was only a five-point deficit. The Nuggets ended up battling the entire second half to come away with the win, but while Jokic had a very impressive, albeit modest, game by his standards (22 points, 8 assists and 13 rebounds), it was the Nuggets’ rookie that stole the show for the winning team.
Hyland, who hails from Wilmington, Delaware, 30 minutes away from where the 76ers play, hit four HUGE three-pointers in the fourth quarter in his homecoming, including one from Stephen Curry range. Many of the other Nuggets’ role players had outstanding games as well, including DeMarcus Cousins, JaMychal Green, and Will Barton. Thanks to a complete team effort, the Nuggets were able to withstand a 34-point performance from Embiid to secure the win. It was perhaps the best win of the season, not only because it helped Jokic’s MVP case, but because it introduced the world to the Nuggets’ electrifying rookie point guard, who finished with 21 points on 7/14 shooting off the bench.
Highlight of the Month: Jokic delivers two impressive passes against the 76ers
Jokic’s elite passing ability was on full display in the game against the 76ers. At the end of the second quarter, the MVP had two unbelievable assists. The first came after a defensive rebound, as Jokic threw a sling pass all the way down the court to find Will Barton who laid it in. Shortly thereafter, Jokic was leading the fast-break when he threw a no-look bounce pass to Jeff Green for a slam. The passes were not only important because of the difficulty level, but they also helped the Nuggets lessen the deficit at the end of the 1st half after the 76ers got off to an early big lead. These plays ended up being big reasons why the Nuggets were able to win this game.
Player of the month: Nikola Jokic
At this point, I’m wondering if this category needs to be be included in the monthly recap, seeing as though the same player is highlighted every single time. Still, I have a feeling that Nuggets fans never get tired of hearing about Jokic’s dominance. In the month of March, Jokic averaged 29.9 points on 62.5% shooting, 12.7 rebounds, and 7.9 assists. His best game of the month by far came against the New Orleans Pelicans in an overtime match on March 6th. He scored 46 points on 16/22 shooting and had 11 assists and 12 rebounds. He had an astounding 30 points in the fourth quarter and overtime to help the Nuggets somehow come away with the win despite being down 11 points with a little over 3 minutes remaining in regulation. He did it all for the Nuggets. He attacked the basket, had a huge block, made clutch free throws, and found his teammates for easy baskets. If you looked up “MVP” in the dictionary, this is definitely the performance you would find. Jokic has been playing so well that he is now the favorite to win the MVP, according to ESPN’s MVP straw poll, which would be his second consecutive time winning the most prestigious individual award in the NBA. It’s been a truly amazing season for the Joker, and he shows no signs of slowing down as the team heads towards the playoffs.
Nikola Jokic is averaging 30.0 PPG, 12.5 RPG, 8.2 APG, 1.6 SPG, 1.5 BPG, 61% FG over the last 13 Games…Dominance. pic.twitter.com/AJqClnBuin— Hoop Central (@TheHoopCentral) March 29, 2022
Story of the Month: The Nuggets are in 5th place and somehow atop their division
Entering the month of March, the Denver Nuggets had won 8 of their last 9 games. Despite this, because of the great play of the Dallas Mavericks and the Utah Jazz, the Nuggets were no closer to climbing to the 5th seed. To make matters worse, the Minnesota Timberwolves went on a tear in the month of March as they closed the gap on the Nuggets for the 6th seed in their desperate attempt to avoid being forced to participate in the play-in. Despite the Nuggets winning 6 of the first 11 games of the month (three of their losses included a healthy Golden State Warriors team, a surging Boston Celtics team, and an overtime heartbreaker against the Cleveland Cavaliers), the Nuggets dropped to the 7th seed after the blowout loss to the Boston Celtics on March 20th.
Fortunately for the Nuggets, the season did not end right then and there. Instead, the Nuggets won four of their next five games and the Minnesota Timberwolves have come back to Earth, allowing the Nuggets to get a three-game separation from the play-in spot. The cherry on top? The Utah Jazz are on a 5-game losing streak to end the month of March, and as a result, the Nuggets have actually surpassed them to claim the 5th seed and the lead in the division. While there still remains games to be played, and nobody knows exactly how everything will shake out, it seems pretty likely that the Nuggets will avoid the play-in and will either be in the 5th or the 6th seed at the end of the season. While that might not seem like a big deal, when you consider all of the injuries that the Nuggets have faced this season, and the elite level that several of the Western Conference teams are playing at, a top 6-seed is a pretty impressive achievement.
Surprise of the month: Still no MPJ or Jamal
Following the status of the Nuggets’ injured stars, Michael Porter Jr. and Jamal Murray, has been quite the experience. For most of the season, fans have been operating under the assumption that we would see Murray return to action sometime before the playoffs. It was always just a question of when that return would come. Would it be before the all-star break? Would it be after? How many games would he play before the playoffs? However, with only five games left in the regular season, and the playoffs set to begin in two weeks, the fact that Murray has yet to return is definitely cause for concern. Murray seems to be making great progress with his rehab, but the question has now become if there’s enough time for Murray to ramp up and feel comfortable with the next stage of his rehab in order for him to take to the court during the most important time of the season when play becomes far more physical.
As far as MPJ, fans have been on a roller-coaster ride all season. After news broke that he would require back surgery, the assumption was that he would miss the remainder of the season. However, news then broke that the Nuggets actually had not ruled him out for the season. Then, at the end of February, reports came out that MPJ’s agent, Mark Bartelstein, confirmed that MPJ was eyeing a return in March after making great progress following the surgery. This week, however, fans got disappointing news when Mike Singer of the Denver Post reported that MPJ had suffered a setback in recent weeks, explaining why the end of March has come with no real update as to if, or when, MPJ will make his return. Although neither player has been ruled out, the chances become greater with each passing day that neither player will return this season. It’s obvious that the team’s approach is to be cautious with their star players in hopes of protecting their health in the long-term, and rightfully so. Still, if you had told fans at the beginning of the season that we would be once again playing without Murray in the playoffs, and that we also would not have our third best player in the lineup, it would have been pretty devastating.
News: #Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. suffered a minor setback amid his rehab from back surgery, sources told @denverpost. No decision has been made yet on whether to shut him down for the season or not.https://t.co/5vgDvPONws— Mike Singer (@msinger) March 30, 2022
Grade for the month: A
What’s new on Denver Stiffs:
The Denver Nuggets are gearing up for the playoffs, and the Denver Stiffs are also in playoff mode. Check out the below pieces from this month to prepare for what should be an interesting postseason.
With the playoffs fast approaching, Tommy Knowlton discusses what the Nuggets most need to improve
Ryan Blackburn takes a look back at the rookie season that Bones Hyland has been having and how he’s helped turn things around for the second unit
In this edition of “Film Friday,” Gage Bridgford explores why the Nuggets are such a better team in the first half of games compared to the second half
In this edition of “The Sixth Man,” Tommy Knowlton attempts to answer the question, “What can we expect from the Nuggets in the playoffs?”
Asher Levy looks at different rotation possibilities for the Nuggets going into the postseason in order to figure out what the Nuggets should do to maximize their chance at success
Brandon Ewing discusses whether or not the Nuggets should shelve MPJ and Jamal Murray for the remainder of the season in this editorial
Ryan Blackburn opines in this piece that Aaron Gordon and Will Barton must step it up a notch in order to help the Nuggets’ chances at success
Bones Hyland was the subject of this “Film Friday,” as Gage Bridgford did a deep dive on the rookie’s success this month
Tommy Knowlton makes the case for why the Nuggets’ win against the 76ers was the best regular season win in recent history
In this episode of the CHICK n’ Nuggets podcast, Jena Garcia recaps the Nuggets’ fantastic win against Joel Embiid and the 76ers
Tommy Knowlton offers high praise for the Nuggets’ offense in this piece
The day after Jokic’s unbelievable performance against the Pelicans, Ryan Blackburn discussed just how great the MVP has been this season