The Denver Nuggets are in a bit of a rut, losing their first home game on Friday night 114-106 to the Houston Rockets, a team that just won its first road game at the same time.

Jokic’s shooting slump continued in a way that Nuggets fans have rarely seen before. Jokic shot 1-of-10 from the field in the first half, missing shots all over the floor, including several easy shots around the rim. It was a very odd sight, and the fact that it continued immediately after Jokic’s 9-of-32 performance vs the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday wasn’t lost on anybody in the building.

Jokic shot an improved percentage in the second half, but the Nuggets were already at a disadvantage, and Jokic still appeared extremely uncomfortable taking most floaters and hook shots. The rest of the squad followed suit, struggling to hit shots for a long while. The bad offense flowed into Denver’s defense in the third quarter, and the Nuggets allowed 40 points in what was another showing of a bad defensive quarter at an inopportune moment. The Nuggets at one point were down by 25 points in the early fourth quarter when Jokic returned to the court.

“I think the last three games – we’ve lost three in a row – each of the three games, we’ve had one quarter that’s just been awful basketball,” shared Michael Malone postgame. “Not good basketball, not okay basketball, like bad basketball. And that one quarter is costing us games. So we have to find out, find a way, to be a team that can compete and play for 48 minutes.”

The team began to figure things out defensively again in the fourth quarter, and that led to an impressive 18-0 run with Jokic, Jamal Murray, Michael Porter, Reggie Jackson, and Peyton Watson. There was a nice amount of energy, echoed by the Ball Arena crowd roaring to life in the fourth quarter. The Nuggets locked in on both ends of the court and turned a 25-point deficit into a seven-point game with just under four minutes to go.

Unfortunately, the run didn’t last, with the Nuggets making just enough mistakes offensively to stall out. The Rockets also found their way to the free throw line 42 times in the game, something the Nuggets were none too happy about. Jamal Murray was ejected with two technical fouls late in the game showing some frustration with the officiating.

“It’s on camera,” shared Murray of the final uncalled foul that caused him some frustration. “The whole game is being recorded.”

Through 23 games, the Nuggets have attempted more free throws than their opponent just eight times. They’re 6-2 when attempting more shots at the free throw line and 8-7 when attempting fewer shots. 12.4% of Denver’s points scored this season have come from the free throw line, the fewest in the NBA, and it’s clear through multiple ejections and arguments that the Nuggets are frustrated by the lack of foul calls.

“Guys aren’t always going to be happy with the officiating, but I think we just have to control what we can control,” shared Peyton Watson postgame. “I think it’s hard sometimes for the officials because our best player plays so methodical…with Joker, it’s kind of hard to call those calls because he’s not moving fast at anybody, so I think a lot of times maybe they will miss them because they just feel like the guy’s in front of him the whole time.”

Watson and his energy was one of the catalysts of the Nuggets recovery tonight. He brought hustle, contested shots defensively, and ran the court with the Nuggets in the fourth quarter especially. The Nuggets found him for cuts and dives to the rim as well as in transition, and Watson had a solid game with 13 points and four rebounds off the bench.

On Jokic’s shooting slump, Michael Malone and Jamal Murray were steadfast in their belief in the two-time MVP:

“It can’t just be on ‘He missed a couple of floaters. Why are we down?’” emphasized Murray. “No, it’s not about that. I hate when people keep saying that, like so what? He had a bad game.”

“Heavy is the head that wears the crown, and a lot is being asked of him every night. To score, to rebound, to defend, to play-make, to be a leader,” Malone opined about the Nuggets superstar. “He’s never shied away from it, and that’s one thing I love about Nikola. He didn’t play his greatest game tonight, but he was out there fighting. Never quit.”

The Nuggets know Jokic will be just fine. He hasn’t shot the ball well in the last two games, but the games are so abnormal in the grand scheme of Jokic’s career. It’s an excuse for the rest of the team to pick up their superstar in a moment of need.

However, it would certainly help if the Serbian superstar could draw a foul call every now and then.

How the Nuggets respond to this moment will be very interesting. It is the first time all season when the team appears a little off balance. The team has returned from playing bad defense before. They’ve returned from other players going into slumps. Never Nikola Jokic. He has always been the rock at the center of everything, somebody that the Nuggets can always rely upon. He will eventually get back to playing like the best player in the world, but in the meantime, the rest of the team has to help itself.

Aaron Gordon has to find a confidence and rhythm again. Christian Braun and Peyton Watson have to find their jump shots. One of DeAndre Jordan or Zeke Nnaji is going to have to play better on the second unit. Julian Strawther has to find his jump shot again too.

The entire team appears in search mode, not just Jokic. Even though his struggles are the most visceral, the Nuggets are all struggling a bit here in early December. Then again, that’s what the regular season is for: iron out the kinks and become perfect by the playoffs. We’ve seen the Nuggets do that before, and I’m not as worried about these moments now as a result.

Still, Denver needs to get in gear sooner rather than later.

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