After winning two games in a row and seemingly putting their season opener in the rearview mirror, the Denver Nuggets reminded everyone that there’s still a long way to go for them to be considered title contenders.

Denver lost to the Portland Trail Blazers 135-110, scoring 55 points in the first half and an absurd 80 points in the second half. Damian Lillard and Anfernee Simons combined for 60 points, and Jerami Grant added 21 of his own. The Nuggets had zero answers for any of them.

The Blazers entered tonight’s game on the second night of a back-to-back after defeating the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday. The Nuggets knew they would be lower on energy than usual and blitzed Portland out of the gate. Denver’s offense was strong throughout. Unfortunately, Lillard kept Portland around and had 19 points in the first half.

Then, Anfernee Simons got going in the third quarter, making an incredible number of threes in difficult situations. Jokić sustained a foul early in the third quarter, and both the offense and defense disintegrated as a result. Murray missed his final nine shots of the game after making his first three attempts.

Aaron Gordon paced the Nuggets with 26 points, playing well within his offensive role. Michael Porter Jr. added 18 points. Unfortunately, Nikola Jokić, Jamal Murray, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope combined for just 23 points on 22 shots between the three of them. Denver’s offense, though still good, clearly wasn’t good enough to make up for abhorrent defense.

Here are the three major takeaways from Monday’s matchup with the Blazers:

Defense was atrocious

There’s no way around this. When you give up 80 points in a half, you’re going to lose more often than not. Tonight was no different. The Nuggets led at halftime, but after a quick scoring burst and a fourth foul on Jokić, the Blazers never looked back. They scored every single time down the floor and looked the part of an elite offense once again.

This is now four straight games that Denver’s defense has ranged from bad to horrible to atrocious. They’ve allowed 123, 123, 117, and now 135 points, three of which to division opponents that weren’t expected to be playoff teams. That’s terrible, and the Nuggets have so much work to do on that end of the floor before they can even think about having playoff success.

The offense isn’t always going to be there.

Nikola Jokić has to be better

While Jokić is far from the only reason the Nuggets lost this game, he certainly didn’t help. Nine points, nine rebounds, and nine assists may sound like a reasonable stat line for Draymond Green. If Jokić played Draymond level defense, he could get away with it.

Jokić doesn’t defend like Draymond though, and he’s the two-time MVP who averaged 27 points per game last season. Attempting four shots is bad. There are very few circumstances when it’s a good thing, and tonight was not one of them. Jokić was being single-covered by either Jusuf Nurkić or Drew Eubanks throughout the game. It was clear heading into halftime that the Nuggets were slowing down on the offensive end and the Blazers were starting to catch up.

Those are the times where superstars have to lead their team, and tonight, Jokić was a bystander on both ends of the floor.

Being the two-time MVP with an inordinate amount of pressure on him, Jokić gets one mulligan. The season is long, and the hope is that Jokić puts this game in the rearview and plays a dominant brand of basketball in short order.

Anfernee Simons is for real

While Damian Lillard – fresh off a Western Conference Player of the Week award – was doing his thing, Anfernee Simons absolutely went off. He scored 29 points against the Nuggets with an ungodly number of those coming in just the third quarter alone. The Nuggets had zero answer for him at any point throughout the game.

When the Blazers traded CJ McCollum, there was a notion that Simons could replace him in the starting lineup and fill a similar role. The Blazers paid him like it this offseason, and he performed the McCollum role to a tee tonight. Simons forms a dynamic dup with Lillard. Neither of those guys can be left on an island, and they can both shoot from deep range while being playmakers for each other.

The Blazers may be better than expected because of Simons’ growth.

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