SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The Denver Nuggets suffered arguably their worst loss of the season Saturday, committing 26 turnovers for 40 points while falling 106-98 at Sacramento.
Here are seven takeaways from the defeat:
1. Fortune teller. Denver coach Michael Malone’s pregame comments illustrated that he was a wary of this type of letdown, stressing “if you judge (an opponent) by their record, you’ll get yourself into trouble … great teams don’t play down to anybody. They bring it every single night.” The coach expected the young Kings to bring even more energy without Zach Randolph, George Hill and Frank Mason. They also came into the game with three days of rest. Obviously, the Nuggets’ sloppy play led to an awful defeat. But don’t count Jamal Murray as a player who wants to just flush the bad night and move on.
“You can’t forget about it,” said Murray, who finished with 18 points, five rebounds, zero assists and five turnovers. “No matter how bad the loss is, you’ve got to learn from it. I didn’t want to lose. I try to show I don’t want to lose every game. The best thing you can do — good, bad, ugly, wins, losses — (is) you gotta learn from it. I’m gonna go watch film on the bus and see what I can learn.”
2. OK offense. Denver shot 46.1 percent from the floor and 38.2 percent from 3-point distance, “OK” marks according to Malone. But Sacramento took 18 more shots than the Nuggets, a product of those 26 turnovers.
“We definitely got good looks,” Murray said. “But we didn’t get enough looks.”
3. Value the ball. Three Nuggets committed fewer than three turnovers — Gary Harris had one in 36 minutes, Malik Beasley and Mason Plumlee each had one in 17 minutes and Torrey Craig had zero in 10 minutes. Still, by the end of the first quarter, Denver had already matched its turnover total from Friday’s home win against Utah.
4. Bench play. This was Game 3 of Malone’s quest to “trust” his bench more, and he seems to have settled on putting Beasley back in the rotation. He finished with three points, three rebounds and one assist. He was part of a uniquely small lineup to close the first quarter: Will Barton at point guard, Beasley at shooting guard, Craig at small forward, Wilson Chandler at power forward and Trey Lyles at center. Still not a part of the rotation? Kenneth Faried. Following Friday’s win against Utah, Malone made a point to say the Nuggets would need Faried against Sacramento. But he backpedaled a bit on those comments during his pregame media availability, only speaking in hypotheticals when asked what he’d want to see out of Faried Saturday night. Turns out, Faried did not play. Of course, Sacramento’s lineup dynamic changed without Randolph’s size.
5. Big Blue Nation. Kentucky products are all over the NBA, but the output from former Wildcats was pretty ridiculous Saturday. Murray’s performance was complemented by Lyles, who finished with 19 points and nine rebounds off the bench for Denver. Willie Cauley-Stein (17 points, seven steals) and Skal Labissiere (12 points, four rebounds, three blocks) both had an impact. And De’Aaron Fox, who often gets overlooked in a stacked rookie class because of his team’s lack of success, was terrific with 18 points and seven assists. He is so quick and fun to watch while getting past his defender and exploding to the basket.
“I felt like I was aggressive the entire game,” Fox said. “I kind of got fatigued, but you couldn’t tell. I’m able to fight through that. That’s just something I have to do — just be able to put pressure on the rim, not only for myself … I just try to balance it out with me shooting a shot and then kicking it out (to a teammate).”
6. Not-so-free throws. Denver missed a huge late-game opportunity when, after cutting Sacramento’s lead to 92-87, Plumlee and Lyles each missed a pair of free throws on back-to-back possessions. Plumles’s misses weren’t exactly surprising, given he’s shooting 39.8 percent from the stripe this season. But Lyles makes nearly 70 percent of his attempts.
7. Here comes the bride? Here’s my latest weird hotel story. There was a wedding at my Sacramento hotel Saturday, and I was originally placed in the room next to the bride’s suite. When I came back from grabbing lunch, there was suddenly a giant gift basket, a tub of white roses and guest gift bags in my room. It was an honest mistake by the hotel workers, but still awkward. And I was promptly moved to a different room.