The Denver Nuggets beat the Los Angeles Clippers 126-115 on Wednesday night, improving their preseason record to 2-2. Nikola Jokić returned to the floor and contributed seven assists, running a high powered offense with the starting unit.

With Jamal Murray and Bones Hyland both sitting out, the Nuggets debuted a starting lineup with Bruce Brown as the pseudo starting point guard. It led to offense being run through Jokić much of the time, and the Nuggets created many open shots with cutters and off-ball movement as a result. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope found his groove early from three, while Brown, Michael Porter Jr., and Aaron Gordon each found opportunities later.

Caldwell-Pope finished the game with 14 points. Porter and Gordon finished with 12 apiece. Brown had nine points. It was a clinic of spreading the ball around, as the Nuggets finished with 74 points in the first half. The starters took the second half off, and the bench carried the mantle the rest of the way. Eight Nuggets scored in double figures, and the offense, despite not having Murray or Bones, looked near unflappable throughout.

Here are the primary takeaways from Wednesday night’s game versus the Clippers:

KCP and Bruce Brown are finding their groove on both ends

The Nuggets got their first extended look at a lineup featuring both Caldwell-Pope and Brown, and Denver found plenty of success. Both were active defensively, generating steals and deflections and contesting shots outside their immediate area. They also each got out in transition, with Caldwell-Pope hitting threes and Brown slashing to the rim.

Caldwell-Pope finished the game with 15 minutes, 14 points, two rebounds, and two steals, hitting two three-pointers in the process. The Nuggets found him for open shots several times, and his shooting threat draws plenty of defensive attention.

Brown finished the game with 15 minutes, nine points on 3/4 shooting, one assist, and one steal. He, KCP, and Gordon helped hold Paul George to just two points on six shots in 16 minutes, giving credence to the notion that Denver’s defense can be improved.

Bench lineup shows good things

While the starters mostly showed good things, the primary bench group found plenty of success late. Ish Smith once again led the charge with 15 points and eight assists in 23 minutes. He was +17 during that time and made sure to give the Nuggets structure during his minutes. His game is tailor made to help the Nuggets in the situations when he’s supposed to play this season.

Also stepping up were Christian Braun and Zeke Nnaji, who had 12 and 13 points apiece. Braun was active early, attacking in transition and constantly slashing and cutting to the basket in halfcourt sets. He added two steals as well and played his part defensively. Nnaji was up and down in the first half but really found his footing in the second half, collecting eight rebounds and two blocks in the process.

Vlatko Čančar and Davon Reed each hit double digits. Peyton Watson showcased his physical tools. Even Jack White got in on the action and hit all of his shots (though he was sent to the shadow realm by Moussa Diabate in the process).

Overall, it was a really good night for the bench, building on Monday’s showing versus Phoenix with another strong performance tonight.

Nikola Jokić struggles a bit in return

Joker returned from missed action due to a right wrist sprain and played 16 minutes in the first half. His numbers: two points, seven assists, three rebounds, one steal, 0/2 from the field. He had some good moments defensively that were mixed in with the bad ones, but he also had four turnovers and four personal fouls, including a transition take foul that effectively ended his night.

Though it’s not really a concern given that he’s the two-time MVP and has proven himself at every turn, it should be noted that Nikola Jokić has yet to make a basket this preseason. He has only attempted three shots, but given that he’s not even really looking at the rim right now, it’s fair to wonder whether the wrist is bothering him more than he’s letting on.

Still, it was good to see Jokić back on the floor. His ability to slice and dice defenses with his passing remains unparalleled, and the scoring will almost certainly get back on track when the games actually matter. Hopefully, he and Murray can start establishing two-man game chemistry shortly.

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