After just over two months off the Denver Nuggets were back in action in an NBA contest. Tonight marked the open of the Nuggets preseason and their overall 2020/2021 campaign. Their first opponent none other than the Golden State Warriors, the once unstoppable dynasty now looking to make it back to the top. Nikola Jokic showed no rust at all as he dominated for Denver but the rest of the team struggled to get much going. The Warriors put together a big lead early before the Nuggets reserves made a late push. Ultimately Vlatko Cancar fell just short of being the hero on a buzzer beating three and Golden State earned a narrow 107-105 victory.

The game was predictably sloppy to start, each team knocked down just one field goal in the first two minutes of the game. Paul Millsap and Kevon Looney both threw up atrocious looking threes. The Warriors found some success from three as the quarter progressed but Jokic was in full force as a distributor which kept Golden State ahead by just one. Still, the Nuggets shot was rusty, whether it was Millsap, Michael Porter Jr. or Gary Harris. Denver’s offense was essentially non-existent outside of Jokic which forced Michael Malone to take a timeout with a little over four minutes to go and Golden State up by three. With about three minutes to go the Nuggets went the bench lineup featuring Monte Morris, Facundo Campazzo, P.J. Dozier, JaMychal Green and Isaiah Hartenstein. The bench group hung tough for a bit with the quarter closing but their lack of a scorer was apparent and they went cold down the stretch. Quarter one closed with the Warriors leading thirty-one to twenty-three.

Golden State’s bench continued to to take advantage of the Nuggets reserves and grew the lead to double digits early in the second quarter. Denver piled up the turnovers while the Warriors piled up transition points before Malone re-inserted some of his starters with the team now trailing by fourteen. Denver’s starting group put a stop the bleeding but weren’t able to close the gap. Jokic continued his outstanding play and was scoring with ease but the rest of the Nuggets starters remained no shows. On Golden State’s side Stephen Curry had been very quite on the scoreboard while still finding plays for others to keep his team’s lead in double digits. Jokic got a breather to end the half which left the Nuggets scrambling once again on offense. Fortunately for Denver the Warriors weren’t exactly in midseason form themselves so the lead didn’t grow. Millsap was his old reliable self right at the end of the half, hitting some free throws and following it up with a three to pull Denver within eleven.

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There wasn’t any sort of refocus right out of the half from either team as the game remained sloppy. Both teams settled for lots of jumpers and those jumpers fell short more often than not. There were plenty of turnovers to go around as well. Denver absolutely could not buy a basket and eventually let Golden State grow their lead up to twenty before Malone took a timeout. Denver’s offense was almost a broken record, absolutely terrible for everyone outside of Jokic (who was absolutely dominant). Finally, Harris had a pretty drive for an and-one right at the midway point of the quarter after Nikola had scored six straight for Denver. He couldn’t convert which left the Nuggets still trailing by a dozen. Joker was absolutely silly in the heart of the third and went he finally sat he tallied twenty-six points, ten rebounds and five assists in just twenty-three minutes. The Nuggets bench still struggled to find points but Hartenstein was a bright spot, after he finished a pretty pick and roll with Campazzo the Nuggets trailed by just seven which is how much they trailed by after the third was over.

The Nuggets opened the fourth with a small lineup that featured Morris, Campazzo, R. J. Hampton and P.J. Dozier with Zeke Nnaji at center. They weren’t getting much on the offensive end but Facu’s defense was relentless on the ball and Nnaji had a nice clean up block. Morris found his groove as the quarter progressed and Campazzo drew a pair of offensive fouls to swing the momentum in Denver’s favor. The Nuggets tied the game before Mychal Mulder hit a pair of threes on the Warriors side and Damion Lee followed with another to get Golden State back up five. Bol Bol made his first appearance halfway through the fourth while Campazzo was still leading the Nuggets effort with support from Nnaji. Steve Kerr emptied his bench, meanwhile only Markus Howard had yet to make an appearance for Denver with Vlatko Cancar checking in. The game remained close as it headed down the stretch with Golden State cleaning to a slim lead. Cancar got a putback with just over 30 seconds to go. The Warriors missed a layup and fouled Bol on the rebound but he went 0-2 from the line. Mulder went 1-2 from the line on the other end to set up Denver with the final possession down by two. Cancar took a deep three at the buzzer but it rimmed out and the Nuggets wind up losing 107-105.

Best matchup: Nuggets bench vs Warriors bench

The best part of the game might have been the fourth quarter when the game got close. Facundo Campazzo was clearly the best player on the court while he had more than one flashy play. Zeke Nnaji also had a strong game showing off his abilities as a floor spacing big. Mychal Mulder, Jordan Poole and Damion Lee were hot on the Warriors side along with Kent Bazemore. Lee and Mulder in particular were hot from outside and drained some big threes. Both teams starting units had their ups and downs but they also have some intriguing depth pieces.

Main thing I noticed: the bench needs Will Barton

What was painfully obvious early in the game when the Nuggets were running with their rotation bench players was there is a lacking of scoring in Denver’s second unit. There’s quality playmaking with Campazzo and Morris while Green, Dozier and Hartenstein serve as perfect grinder glue guys but there’s no sixth man of the year 20 point any given night scorer type in that group. Will Barton can be that missing piece for the Nuggets. It’s going to mean someone losing out on minutes, in all likelihood that person being Dozier given he plays Barton’s position. P.J. is definitely a rotation level player, but he doesn’t having the scoring prowess Barton does and right now that’s the missing piece to the bench.

Closing thought: it’s the preseason

That was a pretty darn ugly game for about 40 minutes before we had a surprisingly fun close between deep bench units. The fact that it was the first game back for everyone and they have had less time than usual to prepare was evident. I wouldn’t read a ton into anything we saw tonight beyond that Nikola Jokic clearly does not need any sort of warm up period. Jamal Murray was quite tonight but expect him to be more aggressive in the coming preseason contests. Same goes for Michael Porter Jr. who struggled to build momentum with his shooting. The loss doesn’t count in the standings either. Good to have Nuggets basketball back!.