Denver Nuggets

Recap: The Denver Nuggets stumble against Jusuf Nurkic and the Trail Blazers

The Denver Nuggets must have so enjoyed laying an egg back in March against the Portland Trail Blazers that they decided to re-enact it, getting blown out by the Blazers 99-82. The Nuggets had 66 points after three quarters, shooting 38% from the field (versus Portland’s 58%) and there wasn’t a single player that had a good game on either end of the court. They could not defend the paint or the pick-and-roll all night. Simply put, Portland wanted it more and it showed.

Jusuf Nurkic had 17 points, 5 rebounds and 7 turnovers, but he erased Nikola Jokic (who had just 6 points, 7 rebounds and 3 assists) and that was more than enough. Denver’s bench contributed only 10 points while the whole team shot just 35.7% from the field, and in this game that wasn’t nearly enough. Denver certainly missed Gary Harris.

Nurkic won the tip to start the game, blew the layup, recovered the rebound and then committed the turnover. It was a very Nurkic way to start the game. On another steal off of Nurkic, Will Barton swished a three for the first scoring of the game, but was matched by C.J. McCollum. Jamal Murray made a layup, Wilson Chandler swished a step-back two, Paul Millsap hit a three and Barton converted another turnover for a 12-5 early Denver lead. Nurkic got a shooting foul off of Jokic, though, and Denver was a little careless with the ball as the Blazers regained the lead at 17-16 with 5 minutes to go while losing the early rebounding battle.

Denver’s turnovers caused a three-plus minute dry spell and eventually an 18-4 run by the Blazers before Chandler’s three. Denver’s seven turnovers were somehow eclipsed by Potland’s eight, but Plumlee bricking elbow jumpers and then the layup at the end of the first encapsulated the quarter and left Denver trailing 25-21. Faried came in for Plumlee and immediately put in an offensive rebound, but at the time Denver was just 10-of-26 from the field. Portland kept attacking the paint while the Nuggets missed their jumpers and the Blazers took a 10 point lead three-plus minutes in. Denver’s idea offense was off-balance runners against pressure and horrible early shots until Jokic came back with Portland up 41-29 as their bench beat Denver’s handily.

Jokic, Millsap and Barton all hit threes (while Chandler notched 5 first-half assists) to helped key a 15-4 run that cut the deficit to 50-47. The Blazers got some gift calls at the end and Murray missed a leaning 30-footer at the buzzer but despite 18 minutes of terrible shooting and turnovers the Nuggets only trailed by 5 at the half, 52-47.

Chandler opened the scoring for Denver from the foul line but the Portland guards hit a pair of threes. Jokic remained out of sorts on offense but so did the rest of the team, scoring just 5 points in the first 3 minutes of the half and increasing their deficit to 11, at 63-52. Millsap finally made Denver’s first bucket of the third quarter with almost four minutes gone, but the Nuggets had trouble keeping the lead much under 10. For every Jokic paint bucket or Murray drive they had flubbed layups and poor turnovers. It was a nice drive, though:

The Blazers stretched their lead back to 78-64 as Denver couldn’t hold the ball, run an offense or buy a call (other than one charge Faried took on Nurkic). Faried’s airball hook with 1:30 to go in the quarter helped the Blazers wrap the period with a 13-2 run and an 84-66 lead.It was more of the same in the fourth, with Portland up 91-70 when Paul Millsap got called for an offensive foul and a tech on a three-point shot he was taking when Nurkic flopped a foul.

There was nothing else to talk about in the fourth. It got sloppy and ugly and the Nuggets couldn’t throw it in the ocean, and despite Millsap’s anger and three-point prowess (he made 5 on the night) the Nuggets were blown out.Thoughts:

Ice cold offense requires effort to overcome it that the Nuggets didn’t show. Denver didn’t cut to the rim, they didn’t get fouled, and they didn’t show a lot of heart. Denver was 8-for-21 at the rim at halftime, then went 5-for-22 from the field in the third quarter. It was an especially passive game from Jokic, who had just 3 points at halftime on 1-of-5 shooting, with 4 rebounds and 3 assists. The Nuggets have to figure out how to get into their offense when teams get up into them and pressure the ball. With their guards having iffy handles and Jokic requiring a bit of spacing on the court to operate at full efficiency, Denver cannot give away quarters while they figure it out. When Jokic got a shot in the paint he was able to finish over the stronger Nurkic, but too many times he was given the ball 21 feet from the basket and settled.

Denver’s refusal to play in the paint was problematic to start and brutal to finish. Denver may have been able beat the Sacramento Kings with Jokic taking three shots, but the Trail Blazers are not the Kings. There aren’t enough offensive generators on the Nuggets to hold up against playoff teams with Jokic pulling a no-show. The book on Denver is that they will fold like a lawn chair if you pressure them and lay hard screens, and they certainly did in this game. Until that changes there’s a definite ceiling on what this team can accomplish.

They bumped up against that ceiling tonight.

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