The Denver Nuggets finished out a two game road trip against the Cleveland Cavaliers tonight. After losing earlier in the week to the Golden State Warriors Denver had escaped disaster against the Hornets in Charlotte and looked to get fully back on track against Cleveland. Things got off to a good start but a lousy second quarter ultimately spelled doom for the Nuggets. They had a shot at the buzzer but can’t get it done and lose 104-102 to the worst team in the Eastern Conference.

The Nuggets got off to a strong start with the three ball and made Cleveland pay early for doubling Jokic in the post. In fact Denver went five of their first six from distance which helped open up an early double digit lead. Gary Harris was off to a great start as well, knocking down corner threes and getting to the basket with ease. Cleveland found some footing and pushed back halfway through the first but Denver’s lead remained close to ten. The Nuggets offense stalled a bit with the bench coming in, Michael Porter Jr. once again absent from the rotation, which let the Cavs get back in it. Cleveland got it as close as four before Monte Morris hit a three and then Jamal Murray hit another at the buzzer to push Denver back up by ten after one.

The Cavs came out strong in the second, Cedi Osman converted a four point play on Torrey Craig which got them within six. MPJ checked in at the nine minute mark with the Nuggets trying to find some offense, meanwhile the Cavs had the lead down to five. Osman in particular was cooking and getting Cleveland closer and closer bucket by bucket. Ultimately they would go on a 10-3 run to pull within a point before Barton stopped the bleeding with a layup. Jokic came back in and made a couple of easy looks for his teammates immediately. Behind him Denver pushed the lead back up but Collin Sexton was giving them trouble which prevented Denver from getting back up by double digits. Unfortunately the Nuggets did not close out the quarter strong and let the Cavs climb back within three by the time the half was over.

Cleveland picked up right where they left off to start the second half. Osman had another quick five points and just like that the Cavs were in front. The Nuggets were cold on their end but Harris played some great defense to keep it close as the quarter progressed. The Nuggets kept within a possession or two but couldn’t get past Cleveland. When the bench started to come in Denver had it down to a one point lead, then a pair of alley-oops for the Cavs immediately pushed the lead back up. Denver fought back with Craig in particular giving them some good energy. Every time the Nuggets looked like they were going to overtake Cleveland they’d turn it over or give up an easy basket or foul though. The third closed with the Cavs still in front by two points.

Denver opened the final frame with a nice play for MPJ but then the bench stalled out and Cleveland pushed back ahead by five. The momentum swung once again into Denver’s favor, it was the Cavs who had now gone cold and Denver strung together some solid possessions to finally regain the lead. The length of a Mason Plumlee-Jerami Grant-MPJ frontcourt gave Cleveland all kinds of trouble, Grant in particular, which put a proverbial lid on the Cavs basket. When the starters came back in the Cavs got their groove back and went on a 12-0 run to go up by seven before Murray hit a big three. Kevin Love was playing really well down the stretch and had a great game, the Cavs started looking to him every time down. He hit another big shot to give Cleveland a five point lead with a minute to go but Harris hit a big corner three to give the Nuggets a chance. Tristan Thompson missed two free throws and Murray had a chance to tie the game but came up short at the buzzer. Nuggets lose to the Cavaliers again 104-102.

Best matchup: Will Barton vs Cedi Osman

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The wings got a lot of the action tonight particularly early in the game. Barton was a big contributor to the Nuggets early three point barrage and though he cooled off as the game progressed he still ended up going 50% from the field and racking up twenty-two points. On the Cavs side Osman was one of the main reasons they got the victory. It was particularly frustrating to watch the Nuggets defend him with relative indifference. Osman got way too many easy looks and it didn’t matter if it was Barton, Harris or Craig defending him. The Nuggets have to do better about not letting guys who are obvious shooters have such easy nights on the floor.

Main thing I noticed: Gary Harris continues to look better

It’s not all bad tonight. Harris had his best game offensively for quite some time. He was pretty much automatic to start the game and ended up only missing one shot all night. He had a good combination of three point shooting and drives to the basket as well. Denver could have used a little more from him on offense in the second half like they could have used a little more from a lot of players but his defensive impact was undeniable. Gary’s had a pretty solid run these past two weeks with the competition being hit or miss. He’s going to see some premier talent over the next two weeks which will be the true test of whether or not he’s found his rhythm.

Closing thought: I mean, I don’t know anymore

At some point you just have to take this team for what they are: good, not great. Too many times we’ve seen them play games like this where they can’t take care of business and put a bad team away. Great teams don’t blow double digit leads against the worst team in the conference…the Nuggets did it twice in a week. There’s still plenty of time to get things right before the playoffs but it’s a tough week for believers in the idea that the Nuggets will actually get it right. It is what it is, the toughest part of the schedule is now here. Where the Nuggets end up after they go through it will be very revealing about what this core can do not only this season, but for seasons to come as well.