The Denver Nuggets came to Detroit to face the shorthanded Pistons on the second night of a back-to-back on Friday night. Despite being shorthanded themselves, the Nuggets took care of business against a bad team, beating the Pistons 104-91. Nikola Jokić had 20 points, 15 rebounds, and 11 assists in 26 minutes. Markus Howard scored the ball efficiently with 20 points himself, shooting 9-of-14 from the field. Despite not having their normal group, the Nuggets looked like the far superior team out there.

Rather than go into a full detail recap, here are some notes from each quarter.

First Quarter

  • Layup fest for both starting units. Nobody played defense, least of all the Nuggets in transition
  • Nikola Jokić continues to dominate. 11 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists in the first 12 minutes
  • Zeke Nnaji gave Denver great minutes on defense and in transition

Second Quarter

  • Deividas Sirvydis, whoever that is, was an absolute sniper in the second quarter, hitting shot after shot from distance and off cuts
  • Monte Morris got into a solid rhythm as a shooter, hitting multiple shots off the dribble
  • Markus Howard made the most of his shot attempts and scored in a variety of ways
  • Jokić continued racking up the numbers by setting up Howard, had a near-triple double at halftime

Third Quarter

  • Michael Porter Jr.’s defense picked up a bit, but he was completely out of rhythm on the shots he should and shouldn’t take. Difficult night shooting for him
  • Denver moved the ball well to generate open threes and shots at the rim, scoring 30 points
  • Jokić didn’t look at the basket to attempt another shot after the 7:39 mark in the quarter. Was strictly a facilitator for Porter, Rivers, Howard, and Cancar
  • Vlatko found his spots really well within the flow in this quarter, including a cutting dunk and a nice putback offensive rebound

Fourth Quarter

  • JaVale McGee got elbowed hard in the face by Jahlil Okafor that could have easily broken a bone on his face. It didn’t, but that’s why Nikola Jokić won’t be coming back into a meaningless game
  • Monte Morris looks great, hitting shots off the dribble, creating shots for others, and even getting a friendly bounce on a three-pointer
  • JaMychal Green gave Denver some great minutes in the fourth quarter, playing defense all over the floor, grabbing rebounds, and getting some dunks
  • Zeke Nnaji got a couple of threes to go late in the fourth. His jumper is his swing skill in the NBA
  • Bol Bol was the last one off the bench in the fourth quarter, and though he made good rotations and contests defensively, he wanted nothing to do with the offensive end tonight. Not a great sign for him

Three Takeaways

The Pistons are really bad

No Jerami Grant, no Mason Plumlee, and limited number of players available beyond their primary roster meant a lot of opportunities for Hamidou Diallo, Killian Hayes, Josh Jackson, and Jahlil Okafor. That was a recipe for disaster from the start. Despite the Nuggets not putting in a ton of effort at the beginning, they didn’t have to. Denver’s talent level was just too high, and the execution level was good enough.

Markus Howard has a future as a scoring guard

20 points on 14 shots for Markus Howard tonight and a lot of great possessions hunting shots all over the floor. He operated in the pick and roll and dribble handoff sets with Jokić, and the result was a bunch of open shots generated for himself by hustling all over the place. He ran around the perimeter and knifed to the rim, creating separation for himself.

He may not be the future at guard for Denver given their depth, but NBA teams should be looking at the way Howard creates shots for himself on and off the ball. It’s a lot like a mix of Jamal Murray and Monte Morris, who use their skills and footwork in different ways to generate good looks. The shots were falling tonight, and they will probably continue to fall as he gets more comfortable.

Scoreboard Watching

The Houston Rockets are currently beating the Los Angeles Clippers. The Dallas Mavericks are currently beating the Toronto Raptors. Both games have major seeding ramifications. If the Clippers lose, the Nuggets will jump up to the third seed in the Western Conference. Michael Malone said postgame that he doesn’t care who the Nuggets face in the playoffs, but I’d have to imagine that Denver would prefer not to face the Los Angeles Lakers before they get back to full health.

We will see.