The Denver Nuggets defeated the Houston Rockets, 105-85, Wednesday night to begin the 2015-16 season with a victory on the road.

Danilo Gallinari finished with 23 points and eight rebounds, with Emmanuel Mudiay chipping in 17 points and nine assists in his first career game, to lead the Nuggets in an impressive start to the regular season. James Harden lead the Rockets in scoring with 22 points, but the Nuggets made him work for every point, as the All-Star guard shot 28 percent from the floor with nine free throw attempts in 36 minutes.

The Nuggets never trailed, with Gary Harris scoring off a drive and dish from Mudiay to start a 10-1 opening run. The Nuggets starters locked down the Rockets, opening up a 22-12 lead before the reserves started coming off the bench. Turnovers and a few poor shots helped the Rockets close the quarter on a run, and the quarter ended with the Nuggets up 27-21. The ball movement in the first quarter was incredible, with the Nuggets racking up seven assists on 10 made field goals.

Mudiay did have a “welcome to the NBA” moment, courtesy of former Nugget Corey Brewer. Patrick Beverley did a good job denying Gary Harris on a fastbreak, allowing Corey Brewer to catch up to the play and swat away Mudiay’s shot attempt.

The Nuggets would keep the good times rolling in the second quarter, with the Rockets closing the gap but never able to make a run to give themselves a lead. On the same hand, the Nuggets guards couldn't stop turning the ball over, limiting the Nuggets on offense. A Rockets timeout with 3:46 remaining allowed the Nuggets to refocus, and they finished the quarter strong. The lead was seven points, but James Harden knocked down a cold-blooded 3-pointer with :01 remaining to cut the lead to 53-49.

A positive sign from the first half was the return of the Manimal, who was active on defense, grabbing boards and finishing in transition. Faried on fastbreaks is unfair, with his vertical ability and speed – it's fun to watch though.

The third quarter was ugly for both teams, but the adjustments Michael Malone made during halftime definitely worked. I’m not sure what he said, but the Nuggets held the Rockets to 14 points in the quarter – 14 points! The Rockets! Over the last five minutes of the quarter, the Rockets had four points, all off Harden free throws, and a Jameer Nelson layup with :12 remaining gave Denver a 76-63 lead going into the final frame.

Michael Malone showed a lot of trust in Emmanuel Mudiay in the last quarter, clearing out the offense for Mudiay at the top of the floor and saying, “Make something happen.” Mudiay stepped up too, finding Will Barton on a sweet baseline cut and knocking down back-to-back jumpers. When Mudiay split a pair of free throws with 3:53 remaining to stretch the lead to 15, the game was pretty much over. A 3-pointer from Nelson elicited a Rockets timeout, and two more 3-pointers from Gallinari and Nelson sent the starters to the bench for the final minutes.


Nuggets-Rockets 10.28 boxscore


Mudiay outplayed Ty Lawson, no doubt. Lawson had 12 points and six assists to Mudiay’s 17 and nine, with the former Nugget finishing a -16 for the game. Mudiay did have 11 turnovers, continuing to struggle with ball security, but the potential for greatness was there. The turnovers will go down (hard to go much higher to be honest) and the playmaking is already there. Mudiay shot 3-5 on 3-pointers, 6-13 overall, and went 2-4 from the free throw line. He made the defense pay when they went under screens, and found his teammates on drives and kickouts. There were times when Jameer Nelson had to step in and say, “Okay, I got this for a few plays,” but overall, Mudiay was amazing.

The Nuggets also did a good job closing out on the Rockets shooters and forcing them into contested shots. Houston finished 8-35 from behind the arc, while the Nuggets shot 13-27, good for 48 percent. Limiting a team like the Rockets to that kind of performance on 3-point attempts was huge, and is a testament to how committed the team is to playing good defense. They did what Coach Malone asked, got defensive rebounds, and were able to score over 100 points in the first game of the season and pick up a nice road win.

Also want to give a star of the night to Gary Harris, who was excellent on defense against Harden tonight. Harris finished a +23 in 29 minutes, with five points, three steals and four personal fouls. He had a few plays where Harden made him look silly, but Harden is one of the best players in the league, and Harris is a second-year guard. Harris didn't back down from the challenge, putting a chest on Harden in the post and using his length to frustrate the All-Star on the perimeter. That's the result of a lot of film study, offseason conditioning, and focus to keep with Harden all that time. Guarding James Harden is one of the most difficult things to do in the league, and the Nuggets were able to limit the damage because of Gary Harris. A tip of the hat to you, good sir, on a job well done.

This wasn’t a game the Nuggets were supposed to win, but they played excellent defense, made baskets when they needed too, and get to face the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday for their home opener. Every win helps, and this one was really fun to watch.