The Denver Nuggets put together two relatively poor efforts on Friday against the Sacramento Kings and then on Monday vs the Milwaukee Bucks.

Against Milwaukee, the Nuggets were never really in the game. The starting lineup started the game poorly, then the first bench rotation put the Nuggets behind by 20 points, a margin that mostly maintained for the next 32 minutes. Giannis Antetokounmpo absolutely dominated the game on both ends of the floor with 36 points, 18 rebounds, five assists, three steals, and two blocks. He was incredible, making a point against the Nuggets after Denver won the last matchup at Mile High a couple weeks ago. He was the best player on the floor.

Nikola Jokic gave it a great effort though. The Nuggets big man had 29 points, 12 rebounds, and eight assists, attempting 25 shots on a night when very few of his teammates were able to bring the same level of energy and effectiveness. Jokic’s game fell apart a bit in the latter stages of the third quarter, but that was right when it was becoming entirely hopeless to envision a comeback.

The two leading stars came to play, but the difference in the rest of the starting units was drastic. Jamal Murray played just 18 minutes tonight, scoring three points and exiting with what appeared to be a shin injury. Murray was barely getting any lift on his shots and looked like he was struggling to move. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope played just nine minutes, exiting after the first quarter has his hamstring injury from the last two games flared up. That appears to be a bit more serious of an ailment than Murray at this stage, as soft tissue injuries can linger for awhile. The Nuggets are lucky the All-Star Break is coming up shortly.

Michael Porter Jr. also struggled shooting the ball in his return to the floor, scoring 11 points on 3-of-11 from the field and 2-of-8 from three. Porter’s absence last Friday night was more precautionary than anything major he was dealing with, but that doesn’t change the fact that he was simply missing some open threes. He’s shooting worse from three than he usually does in the last few games, shooting above 40% from three just twice in his last 11 games. That’s more likely a product of fatigue than anything, and the Nuggets are mostly generating great looks for Porter that just haven’t gone down as frequently the last three weeks.

Off the bench, Christian Braun shot just 2-of-7 from the field and missed his threes. Peyton Watson went 2-of-6 from the field and missed his threes. Reggie Jackson hit a three but struggled mightily on the defensive end. Justin Holiday was brought in to replace KCP in the rotation but shot 1-of-5 from three and wasn’t impactful defensively. There are too many times this year with Denver’s bench where they just look small and undersized next to good teams. Denver played DeAndre Jordan for four minutes, but he made little impact on the game against the more athletic Bucks front line.

Overall, the Nuggets are playing like a tired, rundown team. They had two days off after their back-to-back in California, and while traveling to Milwaukee isn’t an easy trip, they shouldn’t have looked that tired tonight. Yet, they were that tired, and some of it is to do with the fact that Denver can’t expand their rotation and expect good results when it’s not their top eight guys playing.

The final game prior to the All-Star break is on Wednesday at home against the Sacramento Kings, who are on a back-to-back. With Denver as worn down as they clearly are, it’s difficult to have high expectations of energy and effort prior to the All-Star break, and I don’t blame them. The season is long, and this will be one of their final times to really rest up before a long playoff run.

And yet, it’s fair to have questions about the consistency of the team. Asking the starting unit to replicate being the best starting group in the NBA is a tough task year over year, and with the bench as inconsistent as it is, there will be a lot of misses in the midst of some fun games. Denver could use more consistency with that group, but it’s unlikely they will find it until they cut down the rotation in the playoffs.

How far they cut the rotation down is anybody’s guess.

Final Rotations