The Denver Nuggets wrapped up the preseason with a solid 103-90 win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday night. Neither Kawhi Leonard nor Paul George played, but the Clippers put up a solid fight throughout, led by former Nugget Bones Hyland. The third-year point guard led the way for both sides with 25 points while grabbing seven rebounds and dishing out six assists. Unfortunately, he rolled an ankle in the third quarter and was unable to return, but he clearly had revenge on his mind tonight.

The Nuggets still managed to be productive with both their starters and their bench. Nikola Jokić was his incredibly productive self with 25 points, 14 rebounds, and eight assists in 28 minutes, shooting 9-of-15 from the field and 3-of-6 from three-point range. Aaron Gordon and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope each added 13 points apiece, while Jamal Murray posted eight points (on 11 shot attempts) to go with seven assists and one turnover. The starters played well in the first quarter, struggled in the second, and recovered nicely in the third for a productive preseason stint. Hunter Tyson started tonight in place of the injured Michael Porter Jr., and he looked a bit out of place in Denver’s fast paced motion units, though he did have a nice cut and dunk on an assist from Murray. Peyton Watson started the second half and had some athletic plays but shot 1-of-6 from the field himself.

The bench was certainly up and down, but there were enough positives to call it a successful outing. Zeke Nnaji led the way with 11 points and five rebounds, hitting 7-of-8 free throw attempts and playing impressive switch defense. His outside jumper continues to elude him though, going 0-of-1 from three-point range tonight. Nnaji is now 23-of-28 from the free throw line (82.1%) after shooting 64.5% from the free throw line last year.

Here are my preseason takeaways:

The starters are ready even if MPJ needs to ramp up

Michael Porter Jr. didn’t play a minute this preseason. It’s the first time that’s happened in his career so far, and as a player who has often needed some time to get up to speed on coverages and concepts, it seems like that could be an issue. I don’t think it will be though. Porter’s good enough – and enough of a veteran now – that he knows what’s expected of him and reads the floor better than ever. His ability to bend the defense to his shooting pairs seamlessly with Denver’s other actions that frequently attack the middle of the floor. Expect Porter to shoot slowly out of the gate but still make a solid impact.

The Nuggets can survive a slow shooting start (and even a slow defensive start) because the other four Nuggets appear extremely locked in at all aspects. Jokić looks like he’s clearly the best player in the league, affecting the game on both ends of the floor and punishing every mistake by the opposition. Sometimes, it doesn’t even matter what the defense does because he can still make impossible shots look easy.

If Jokić plays like this consistently, the Nuggets will get off to a good start, a better start than last season.

The bench remains unsettled

On top of Porter not playing, Christian Braun didn’t play. Julian Strawther also sat out tonight in what was Denver’s “dress rehearsal” game in which we saw what the rotations may look like heading into the year.

Murray staggered with the second unit in the first half, playing next to Reggie Jackson, Justin Holiday, Braxton Key (interesting), and Zeke Nnaji. He made one basket, set up Nnaji under the rim for a layup, but struggled to find a consistent rhythm directing traffic with that unit. The Nuggets still won those minutes, but it looked clunky, and the defensive rebounding was an issue once again.

Assuming that Christian Braun comes back and plays a sixth man role, the Nuggets appear to be trending toward a bench unit featuring Murray, Jackson, Braun, Nnaji, and a mystery fifth option. That could be Strawther, though having him or Braun play power forward is quite the endeavor. It could be Tyson. It could be Watson. Hell, it could be Braxton Key. The key factor is that the injury to Vlatko Čančar made things difficult for the Nuggets to figure out.

The good news? They will have 82 games to do so.

Final Rotations