The Denver Nuggets, after going down by nearly 20 points in the second quarter, turned on the jets for the rest of the game and defeated the New Orleans Pelicans 134-116, improving to 7-1 in their first eight games of the season.

In the Nuggets first game without Jamal Murray, who may miss an extended period of time according to Michael Malone, the Nuggets responded by scoring 109 points in the final three quarters of the game. Denver started off slowly, shooting 1-of-13 from three-point range to begin the contest. They finished the game shooting 14-of-26 from three, staying the course and delivering an absolute masterclass offensive performance.

At the center of everything was Nikola Jokić, who put forth 35 points, 14 rebounds, and 12 assists, shooting 15-of-24 from the field and 2-of-6 from three-point range. Jokić started the game 0-of-4 from three, but everything else was working for him, and the Nuggets were extremely dominant in his minutes despite a difficult second quarter stretch.

Oh, and this Michael Porter Jr. alley-oop was an epic exclamation point on the Nuggets night.

Here are my takeaways from tonight’s matchup against the Pelicans:

Point Guard by committee

Jamal Murray missed his first game of the season and is likely to miss several more. Michael Malone shared in his postgame press conference that Murray could be out for “a while” and that the Nuggets will have to find a way to survive.

Rather than put all of the pressure on one person, the Nuggets shared the burden of Murray’s role across several people. Reggie Jackson started for Murray and had a quiet night scoring, but he had four assists and zero turnovers and was a +16 in his 24 minutes. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had 15 points and seven assists on the evening, a playmaking bump that helped the Nuggets get in and out of their sets in many of the same ways. Collin Gillespie was the backup point guard, and though Gillespie struggled in his first rotation, the Nuggets undrafted technically rookie had a three-pointer an And-1, and a nice steal in the second half to recover.

The Nuggets even used Aaron Gordon as their de facto point guard for stretches, and he handled the assignment well with six assists compared to just two turnovers of his own.

The team as a whole had 37 assists, nine turnovers and scored 134 points. That doesn’t look like the box score of a team missing an incredible point guard in Jamal Murray.

Julian Strawther and Peyton Watson shine

It was an incredibly impressive outing for the two youngest players on the Nuggets roster. Julian Strawther came off the bench in the second quarter and immediately helped grease the wheels of the Nuggets offense. He shot 3-of-4 from three in the first half and helped break the iced on Denver’s cold first half shooting.

That shooting confidence carried into the second quarter with Strawther making several shots, including multiple threes, a floater, and a nice jump hook while posting up a smaller defender. Strawther finished with 21 points in 19 minutes on 8-of-13 from the field and 5-of-9 from three. He was also rarely taken advantage of defensively, because attacking a 6’7″ shooting guard with good length just isn’t a great idea most of the time.

Peyton Watson had a less heralded game but was just as impactful. The 21-year-old forward had four points, three rebounds, and an assist, but his work battling against Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson was paramount to Denver’s success. Watson finished the game with two steals, two blocks, and was a +15 in just under 19 minutes. Ingram and Williamson each shot 10-of-22 from the field, and while much of that had to do with Caldwell-Pope and Gordon respectively, Watson battled just as hard and was successful too.

Nikola Jokic might be underrated

Michael Malone had a great quote about Jokić to wrap up his presser: “Empowering people is really cool, and I think Nikola does a great job of empowering those around him.”

It’s just another aspect of Jokić’s game that should be credited. The Nuggets, much in the mold of the Golden State Warriors around Stephen Curry, are empowered to grow their games, explore the bounds, and work with Jokić to get the most out of themselves. Jokić understands each player’s game and does what he can to mold his skill set around what works, rather than what works for him. It’s an underrated skill set, but it’s why so many players are “Jokić players” because he works tirelessly to help others look good too.

Oh, and he had 35, 14, and 12 with two stocks. Pretty solid.

What’s Next

The Nuggets will play the aforementioned Golden State Warriors on Wednesday, facing a 6-2 Warriors squad playing great basketball. It will be a nice test for Denver without Jamal Murray.

Final Rotations