Sometimes, it takes a spectacular performance to get out of a rut.

The Denver Nuggets defeated the Charlotte Hornets 119-115 on Sunday night, getting back in the win column after a bad performance against the Los Angeles lakers two nights earlier. The Nuggets burned the tape of that game and decided not to have a shootaround. Tonight, they brought better effort and intensity led by the man in the middle.

Nikola Jokić had himself a night, dropping 40 points, 27 rebounds, and 10 assists in the win. Numbers like that haven’t happened since Wilt Chamberlain in 1968, and it felt like Jokić could have hunted for even more numbers at the end of the game.

The Nuggets move to 18-11 and are tied with the New Orleans Pelicans for the second seed in the Western Conference playoff race. Though the defense hasn’t been good enough, there’s no doubt that the Nuggets are doing enough to stay ahead of the pack in the West.

Here are my primary takeaways from the Nuggets matchup with the Hornets on Sunday evening:

Joker on a rebounding mission

Entering Sunday night, nobody expected Nikola Jokić to set a career high as a rebounder. Then again, Joker is always full of surprises,

On top of scoring 40 points and dishing out 10 assists, Jokić grabbed 27 rebounds. His previous career high was 22 boards, but Jokić nearly achieved that in the first half alone, grabbing 20 boards against a clearly undermanned Hornets front line.

Often throughout his career, when he’s struggling or he knows the team is struggling, Jokić looks to be a better rebounder. It’s an interesting decision but one that often correlates to Nuggets wins.

“We have this stat that when we out-rebound the other team, we win games,” Jokić shared with media postgame. “I think that rebounds are a part of playing defense to be honest.”

If that’s the case, then Jokić’s best defensive skill is clearly his rebounding. Averaging 10.9 rebounds per game on the season, Jokić is at his best defensively when he’s active on the boards. He ranks sixth in the NBA in rebounds per game after tonight.

A step in the right direction defensively

Michael Malone was adamant postgame that even though the Nuggets allowed 115 points, he thought that this was the team’s best defensive performance in a while, even though the Nuggets gave up 35 points in the fourth quarter.

“They shot 42 [percent] from the field tonight, 31 [percent] from three,” Malone emphasized. “It’s not just about the fourth quarter. It’s 48 minutes.”

Some will point to this being a win over the Hornets, a team that’s now 7-23 and has lost eight in a row. With LaMelo Ball and Gordon Hayward back though, it’s clear that the Hornets at least have some talented players that can give teams trouble from night to night.

“I didn’t think this was going to be an easy game,” Malone stated. “There are no easy games in the NBA. Every team has talent, and every team has pride.”

“Our effort on that end has to be great. Each night,” Kentavious Caldwell-Pope declared postgame. “No matter what it is, when we’re helping someone, closing out, just guarding 1-on-1, that effort has to be there. We have to take that pride in guarding our man and helping each other.”

Bench puts up another dud

Though the team got a much-needed win, it had little to do with the bench unit. Of all five players to suit up, the Nuggets scored just 18 points and generated two assists. There was only one steal or block as well. Every bench player had a negative plus-minus and several were double-digit negatives, emphasizing just how bad the minutes were.

“Our bench wasn’t giving us anything. That’s really what it was,” Malone shared. “Guys get pissed off when they come out of the game. Well, if you’re playing better, you aren’t coming out of the game.”

Bones Hyland continues to struggle, scoring just seven points on 11 shots after a rough performance on Friday night against the Los Angeles Lakers. He’s averaging 11.8 points and 2.8 assists per game, shooting just under 39% from the field and 32% from three-point range. He has a negative plus-minus in 13 of his last 14 games played. This season, Bones has been a high usage playmaker to mixed results, mostly because he has to be. Some of the shots and possessions he generates are bad offense though, and he has to find ways to make life easier on himself and get teammates more involved.

There are other players that need to be better, including DeAndre Jordan, who played just eight minutes and was a -16 in the plus-minus department himself. Jokić had to play 40 minutes because the bench was bad, and Jordan can certainly do more to affect the outcome than he has so far.

Whether larger changes come remains to be seen.

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