The Denver Nuggets, specifically the Nuggets starters, were not ready to play on Sunday.

After losing a hard fought matchup against the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday night, the Nuggets dropped Sunday’s game vs the Cleveland Cavaliers in blowout fashion. The final score of 121-109 doesn’t reflect the mismatched effort well as the Nuggets dominated in garbage time and hit nearly every shot they attempted when the game was already decided.

Nikola Jokic struggled on Sunday to generate shot and free throw attempts consistently. The shooting and spacing around him wasn’t great, and the floor was constantly condensed around the Serbian center. He was also stuck in foul trouble for much of the game, and his frustration about the foul calls boiled over when he committed two clear offensive fouls in succession, called by Tony Brothers both times. Nuggets fans will note the icy relationship between Brothers and Jokic in the past, but that’s not the way I would read the situation, even if Jokic felt personally affronted by the lack of foul calls in his favor.

Jokic finished the game with 18 points, 10 rebounds, and seven assists, a fine outing if it didn’t come with some bad turnovers and horrendous defense in an effort to avoid the next foul. Jarrett Allen won his matchup against Jokic so thoroughly. Allen was a +42 tonight, and the Cavs simply crushed it in his minutes with Allen playing great defense against the Serbian big man and proving to be a major screen and roll threat against the ground bound Jokic.

Michael Porter Jr. found a rhythm as a shooter, scoring 21 points and hitting 5-of-9 three-pointers on the day. Some of the shots were incredibly impressive, and the Nuggets can absolutely use Porter finding his shooting stroke again as a moral victory.

Unfortunately, Porter’s defense was also horrendous for the entire game. The Cavaliers attacked him on and off the ball, using their quick trigger shooters to evade Porter and force him to navigate screens, something he’s still not comfortable doing. Porter finished the evening a -31 in his 27 minutes and struggled to make an impact outside of hitting jumpers. Porter couldn’t break down his primary matchup, Dean Wade, off the dribble, and that caused several Nuggets possessions to stall.

The rest of the Nuggets starting group just wasn’t very impactful. Aaron Gordon continues to hit 50% of his free throws, which just isn’t good enough. Evan Mobley won his matchup with Gordon definitively tonight. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope shot 2-of-9 from the field while his primary matchup, Darius Garland, was the best player on the floor and had 26 points and six assists.

On a night when the Nuggets needed a lot to go right in order to get a win, they didn’t get nearly enough from their starters. They wasn’t effective defensively, and that set the tone pretty consistently.

Fortunately, there were some good performances to come from the Nuggets bench. Christian Braun struggled out of the gate but found his rhythm with 13 points on 6-of-11 shooting, making his only three-point attempt from the right corner in front of the Nuggets bench.

Zeke Nnaji struggled in his first half minutes rebounding the basketball on the defensive end, but the 22-year-old big man made an impact on the offensive glass, made some decent passing reads, and he also hit a three-pointer from the right corner in the second half.

Jalen Pickett did a nice job of generating those looks for his teammates, getting into the middle of the floor and spraying the ball out to shooters. Pickett hit a couple of three-pointers himself and continues to show some confidence in that outside jumper when given the time to take it. It wasn’t a perfect evening from Pickett whose size showed up in negative ways on both ends of the floor, but it was a nice learning experience from the 32nd overall pick of the draft.

The Nuggets ultimately lost, and their bench continues to look like a roulette wheel of who will play well from night to night. Still, it was good to see multiple solid games in a row from Christian Braun, someone who needs to step up and be this version of himself every single night if the Nuggets want to win a championship.

If the Nuggets can’t find the energy against the 2-12 Detroit Pistons tomorrow, then there will be major ripple effects. Jokic has to set a better example, and it’s time for Gordon to make some outside shots and Porter to play a complete game.

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