In an unfortunate performance on the road by the Denver Nuggets young bench, the Nuggets lost 107-104 to the Houston Rockets.

Jokic did his best to keep the Nuggets above water, with the Nuggets outscoring the Rockets by 12 points in Jokic’s 38 minutes. Unfortunately for Denver, they were outscored by 15 points in the other 10 minutes, leaving the Nuggets starters to scratch and claw their way back into the game in the fourth quarter.

Michael Porter Jr. had a solid 25 points and 10 rebounds though made some key mistakes on both ends in the fourth quarter, allowing Jae’Sean Tate to steal a late inbound pass when the Nuggets had a chance to tie the game with 14 seconds to go.

The Nuggets bench scored just eight points, paltry total even compared to a modest 31 points from the Rockets reserves. Former Nuggets veteran Jeff Green did most of the damage in the fourth quarter, scoring 15 points and hitting three three-pointers.

Here are my takeaways from the Nuggets matchup with the Houston Rockets on Sunday night:

Nikola Jokic dominates matchup with Alperen Sengun

Heading into this game, the Rockets were playing strong basketball and above 0.500 for the first time in several years. Anchoring their success was third year center Alperen Sengun, doing his best Jokić impression. Tonight, Sengun was fairly good with 23 points, eight rebounds, and five assists, a solid performance that highlighted Sengun’s versatility.

And yet, it was child’s play compared to what Jokic did. Jokic put together a ridiculous stat line with 36 points, 21 rebounds, and 11 assists. Though Jokic wasn’t his most efficient self as a jump shooter tonight, he still shot 50% from the field and hit 8-of-8 from the free throw line. Jokic also hit a clutch three-pointer to cut Houston’s lead to one with roughly 19 seconds to go.

Unfortunately, the heroics weren’t enough from Denver’s superstar big man. He did about everything that could be asked of him, and it still wasn’t enough.

The bench makes that domination a moot point

There’s only so much that one player can do, and the Nuggets found that line tonight. Jokic’s dominance was nullified by Denver’s bench struggles. The Nuggets bench scored just eight total points tonight, and six of those points came from Collin Gillespie. Christian Braun, Peyton Watson, Julian Strawther, and Zeke Nnaji combined for just two points on 1-of-10 from the field, and the defense from that quartet just wasn’t good enough to make up for the lack of scoring punch.

This is the second game in a row that the Nuggets young bench failed to make an impact on the complexion of the game. The Nuggets had three days off between Wednesday’s clutch win vs the Golden State Warriors and tonight’s matchup in Houston. The bench looked identical in both games, and trends are starting to form. There aren’t enough driving lanes for any of the players to find consistently and develop a rhythm. The Rockets (surprisingly) and Warriors are good defensive teams, but the Nuggets helped both teams out by driving halfheartedly into lanes that didn’t exist, slowing down the possession, and rotating the ball around the perimeter.

It’s rare for the Nuggets bench to get into the paint, and when it happens, the finishing around the rim has been subpar. None of Braun, Watson, or Nnaji have taken steps forward as scorers to start the year, and now that the honeymoon period is over on their defensive impact, it’s clear that the Nuggets are going to struggle to keep up with opposing teams due to a lack of offense.

One of the young guys will have to take a step forward to provide offensive impact more consistently. Without another weapon, the Nuggets starters will wear down sooner rather than later.

What’s Next

The Nuggets travel back to Denver and will face James Harden and the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday for the In-Season Tournament. The Clippers are currently winless in the Harden era (0-4).

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