The Denver Nuggets messed around for the first half against the Charlotte Hornets before pressing the “Go” button in the third quarter, ultimately winning 111-93 in blowout fashion on New Year’s Day.

Nikola Jokic finished the game with 13 points, 11 rebounds, and six assists in his 27 minutes. Jokic added a steal and a block in the first half, but he was largely passive from a scoring perspective, rarely touching the paint and mostly directly traffic from the free throw line and out. Jokic had just two points at halftime on one field goal attempt, and the scored was tied at 49 after 24 minutes. Jokic even collected a technical foul after showing frustration with a call in the second quarter.

Of course, it wasn’t like Jokic wasn’t doing his thing as a creator. Some of the passes he made were absolutely awesome, including this touch pass to Peyton Watson for a three-pointer.

 But then, Jokic turned it on in the second half as a scorer, and the Nuggets followed suit. The starters opened the third quarter on a 30-6 run, effectively ending the game right there. Denver did a similar thing against Charlotte in the first matchup just over a week ago, and it appears it wasn’t just a fluke run.

Denver defended well. They scored well. They got out in transition. It was perfect basketball for six minutes.

“I think Nikola especially became a lot more aggressive in that second half,” Michael Malone shared postgame. “That was great to see. He actually looked at the basket, scored, and then we started firing on all cylinders. When we do that, when we defend, when you have Jamal and Michael and Nikola playing at that level, then that allows us to go on runs like that.”

It might seem like an easy formula for the Nuggets if Jokic simply locks in and scores. In all honesty, it can be. Jokic wasn’t going out of his way to demand the ball though, and that allowed others to shine throughout the evening.

Jamal Murray led the way with 25 points and seven assists, playing an aggressive brand of basketball in the first quarter to help the Nuggets generate a lead. Murray stayed locked in throughout and did what he had to do on both ends, adding two steals and a block to his offensive numbers.

 Michael Porter Jr. led the team in minutes at just over 30 in this one, finishing with 22 points and eight rebounds on 8-of-17 from the field and 4-of-11 from three. He staggered with the second unit in the fourth quarter, leaving the third quarter slightly earlier than normal then reappearing at the start of the fourth.

“[Kentavious Caldwell-Pope] is a race horse. He can play the whole quarter, which he did,” Malone shared about staggering his starters. “They were also playing zone out there with their second unit, so getting Michael Porter out there as a zone buster.”

Porter missed some open fourth quarter shots but hit a key three-pointer in the right corner off a nice passing sequence from the bench. The Nuggets could look to go to that unit a bit more frequently in the future as the schedule toughens up during January.

The Nuggets welcomed back Aaron Gordon after his injury scare over Christmas. Gordon played with stitches in his right shooting hand, but they didn’t seem to affect him too much. Gordon finished the game with 25 minutes, scoring 10 points and grabbing two rebounds and adding a blocked shot. Gordon hit his only three-pointer of the game and never hesitated to take the shot.

“It’s always good having him out there, just the energy on the glass or catching lobs, whatever it is,” shared Murray. “He was just trying to get his legs back. Obviously, he was just trying to get his legs back. He had been out for awhile from playing basketball.”

The Nuggets also welcomed back an old friend for the New Year as former Nugget Ish Smith received his championship ring pregame. The Nuggets all mobbed him, just as they did for Jeff Green a few weeks ago.

“We had to kick him out of the locker room before our game,” Malone told media postgame about Ish Smith. “I think it’s always great for guys to get their moment and their recognition for their impact and helping us win.”

The Nuggets will have another couple of days off before traveling to face the Golden State Warriors on the road on Thursday. That will be a revenge game opportunity for Golden State. Then, the Nuggets return home for the second night of a back-to-back against the Orlando Magic on Friday night.

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