It wasn’t always a pretty game, but the Denver Nuggets wrapped their preseason with a victory against the Los Angeles Clippers 103-90. Nikola Jokic had 25 points, 14 rebounds and 8 assists in 28 minutes and looked very prepared for the start of Denver’s title defense. Aaron Gordon and Jamal Murray each chipped in 13 points and Zeke Nnaji had 10 points and 4 rebounds off the bench. Coach Michael Malone was back on the bench Bones Hyland led the Clippers with 25 points as well as 7 rebounds and 6 assists before leaving the game with an ankle injury, but everyone else seemed to get out of the preseason intact, which is always the hope.


The Clippers rested their big three in this game – Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, and Russell Westbrook – while Denver had its normal starters minus Michael Porter Jr, who sat out another game with his ankle issue. Norman Powell scored on a breakaway, while Jokic answered with paint make. Jokic uncorked a beautiful full-court water polo pass just a couple minutes into the game, but the Clippers were up 9-5 when Jokic swished a top-of-the-key three and Aaron Gordon dunked a fast-break deflection to retake the lead for Denver.

A Jokic steal and back-and-forth with Aaron Gordon led to an AG dunk, but some poor offensive possessions after that including a Reggie Jackson turnover kept the game within two baskets despite a nice reverse flush from AG. Jokic made a tough baseline turnaround over Mason Plumlee to make it 22-17 Denver, but Denver’s starters remained tied with the Clippers after the first 10 minutes thanks to mediocre execution on both ends. Braxton Key turned the ball over wasting a last-minute transition off a steal and Jackson bricked a three on the next possession, leaving Denver up just one after the first quarter, 24-23.

Zeke Nnaji started the second quarter with a dunk, but Kobe Brown scored right back on him on the other end. Jamal Murray was running with the bench but playing off ball for some reason. Reggie Jackson hit a nice three and scored on a tough drive to the rim, but it was Denver’s defense that stiffened and held LA to 6 points in the first 4+ minutes of the second quarter and earned the Nuggets a bit of breathing room finally at 36-29. Jokic came back in and immediately scored a bucket, but the Clippers went on a run as Denver had a bit of a lid on the bucket even with mostly starters in the game. It was 44-40 Los Angeles as the Clippers drove Denver at will. Bones Hyland led a 15-4 run and had 20 first half points. Hunter Tyson got a traditional 3-point play out of driving the hoop from the three point line to retake the lead for Denver at 50-49, and the teams wound up tied at halftime 53-53.

Denver opened with a Kentavious Caldwell-Pope three and Hyland continued where he left off, driving on Peyton Watson (who started the second half after missing the first) and Jokic both. Then Jokic buried a 3 for a 61-57 lead.

Jamal Murray made his first three in 5 attempts. Bones Hyland got hurt landing off a drive and had to be helped off the court halfway through the third with Denver up 70-63. Murray and Gordon missed threes but Jokic had a nice drive, and both Gordon and Peyton Watson had great dunks to help the Nuggets take a 78-71 lead into the final frame.

KJ Martin opened the fourth quarter scoring with a transition dunk off a Nuggets turnover. Juston Holiday hit a three for his first points of the night. Zeke Nnaji made several trips to the charity stripe and Denver’s reserves kept the hustle up against the Clippers who did the same. Justin Holiday buried a three off a Jalen Pickett assist, but that duo had a turnover the next time down. Zeke Nnaji had a nice dunk off a roll to the rim for a 92-82 lead with 5 minutes left. Pickett nailed a 3, Watson missed one, but Denver wrapped up its final preseason game with a fairly relaxed finish of 103-90 and now everyone can look forward to Tuesday night when the real fun begins.


The starters looked a little rusty. It makes sense – they haven’t played together a ton so far this preseason, but the bench players for the Clippers played the Nuggets straight up in the first half and the Nuggets had 9 first-half turnovers that made it worse.

Jokic looked great while going for 18 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists in just the first half. Aaron Gordon had his cut game down, but the rhythm for most of the first half from the group as a whole just wasn’t crisp. Denver was 3 for its first 20 three-point attempts. Again – it’s preseason. But if you wanted to see Denver’s lead group going full speed and taking it to a bunch of bench players, that did not happen. You’ll have to wait for Tuesday against the Los Angeles Lakers to see this team in anything close to its full glory.

Denver needs to step it up in on-ball defense. Part of that is rebounding, but the Clippers pushed off turnovers and misses with 14 first half fast-break points and a bunch of easy buckets around primary defenders. Bones Hyland destroyed Denver’s attempts at on-ball defense either running or playing under control, which Coach Malone will not appreciate. The Nuggets will need to get back better and stop the ball before it gets to the cup once the regular season gets here.

The missing bench players were noticed. Julian Strawther being out (along with Christian Braun) really hurt Denver’s scoring options with the bench unit early and left Reggie Jackson trying to will more out of the group early than you’d like to see. Peyton Watson didn’t play in the first half and the loss in defense was palpable, but both Denver’s offense and defense are necessarily team systems – one guy can’t change that. It was good to see Zeke Nnaji fighting through contact for rebounds and free throws as he continues his push for early rotation minutes, but this whole preseason has just whet the appetite to see a full strength Nuggets squad out there. It didn’t happen in 5 preseason games, but hopefully Game 1 will be at or close to full strength. Denver’s bench is a by-committee approach per GM Calvin Booth’s own words, and that committee needs all its members.

Bonus: The preseason is finally over! Bring on Opening Night with the first banner for the Nuggets and a Lakers squad that seems almost as anxious to get to this game as Denver fans are.