In an opportunity to send a message to a potential playoff opponent, the Nuggets fell flat.

The Nuggets went to Memphis on Saturday night and got thrashed by the Grizzlies 112-94. It was a poor all-around performance that saw the Nuggets shoot 40.4% from the field and 29.7% from three-point range. Nikola Jokić, Jamal Murray, and Michael Porter Jr. combined for just 28 points on 34 shot attempts, going to the free throw line just twice between the three of them.

The Nuggets offense was bothered from start to finish by an elite Grizzlies defense. Jaren Jackson Jr. and Dillon Brooks did great work on Jokić and Murray, as did Xavier Tillman. The Nuggets looked flustered after beginning the game reasonably well, unable to match Memphis’ relentless rim attacks with outside shots just not falling.

The bench did not help matters, taking significant part in a 26-5 run that basically shut the door on a Nuggets win opportunity before the starters even returned.

Here are my takeaways from the Nuggets matchup with the Grizzlies on Saturday night:

Worst performance of the season

Don’t let the final score fool you: this was a horrible loss. The Nuggets couldn’t find a rhythm offensively due to the physicality of the Grizzlies defenders. The few open shots that the Nuggets did get, they bricked them all, shooting 3-of-16 from three-point range in the first half and leading to Grizzlies offense the other way.

Nikola Jokić was fine. His defense was honestly okay, but the Grizzlies challenged him all night at the rim. He forced some misses but didn’t really deter Memphis and Ja Morant in any way. On the other end, Jokić had just three assists. A lot of open jumpers were missed, and there were several bad process possessions when Jokić didn’t touch the ball.

Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr., and Vlatko Čančar all shot poorly, and none of the three made an impact on the defensive end. Only Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was a plus on both ends, but that’s not enough.

The starters weren’t the only culprits tonight, but it’s clear that they didn’t have their best stuff or anything close to it.

All-bench unit probably can’t happen again

For the second straight game, Michael Malone went back to the five-man bench unit of Reggie Jackson, Bruce Brown, Christian Braun, Jeff Green, and Thomas Bryant. With Aaron Gordon out, Vlatko Čančar is with the starting unit and Green is with the reserves. Given Denver’s desire to play 10 guys and not overwork their starters down the stretch, it puts some extra onus on the bench to be good.

Unfortunately, the moment the Nuggets made their first subs, things started going downhill. Jackson and Brown each had rough games on both ends of the floor. Braun waited until the second half to start taking shots. Green was the designated floor spacer of the unit, and that’s simply a bad sign. Bryant looked completely lost on both ends. It was a 26-5 run for Memphis that Denver just never recovered from.

Ultimately, the all-bench group finished minus-8 in the plus-minus department, but the Nuggets were still put at a major disadvantage by their stint in the first half. The flow of the group is just entirely out of whack. That needs to change in short order if the Nuggets want to trust any of their new additions when the playoffs begin.

Wipe the slate

The great and terrible thing about the NBA is there’s always another regular season game to play. For the Nuggets, there’s a game in 24 hours against the Los Angeles Clippers, second night of a back-to-back. That may seem cruel after such an ugly performance, but it might be a blessing.

After being demolished tonight, the Nuggets will have an opportunity to turn the page against another good Western Conference opponent, specifically one that features former teammate Bones Hyland. The Nuggets may be tired after playing a game and having to travel back from Memphis, but they also should be mad. Perhaps they take out that anger on the Clippers.

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