The Denver Nuggets lost their fourth game in a row against the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday night, losing 125-110 in disheartening fashion.

The Raptors pushed the Nuggets to the brink in the first quarter alone, scoring 49 points on Denver’s Swiss cheese defense. Fred VanVleet was incredible, dropping 36 points on a high degree of difficulty on his perimeter shots. When the Nuggets defense finally woke up, it was too little, too late. Every time the Nuggets cut into the Raptors lead, VanVleet answered with a rainbow three over a good contest.

Jamal Murray played 40 minutes and looked to be in pain for almost all of them. Playing in front of several friends and family near his hometown in Ontario, Murray gutted it out but played poorly outside of a good third quarter stretch. The rest of the time, it was rough.

Nikola Jokić had 28 points, 8 rebounds, and 7 assists, though it was difficult for the superstar center to touch the ball with Toronto’s length and athleticism in their lineup.

Here are my takeaways from the Nuggets matchup in Toronto against the Raptors:

Jamal Murray played hurt, and it looked bad

There’s no way around it: Jamal Murray was not good in his homecoming game. This was the first time Murray had played in front of friends and family in Toronto since December 3rd, 2018. Unfortunately, it did not go the way he wanted.

Murray scored just 14 points on 5-of-18 from the field and 1-of-8 from three-point range. he did have nine assists, but they were cancelled out by five turnovers, some of which were egregious. His defense was also bad, despite notching two steals and a block.

The most alarming number wasn’t the poor shooting or turnovers though. It was the 40 minutes. Yes, Murray was playing in front of friends and family, but he was also questionable with left knee injury management before the game. Michael Malone shared pregame that Murray would be playing tonight even if he had to do so on one leg…which isn’t exactly an encouraging statement given his injury concerns.

It’s clear that Murray is laboring through pain right now, and the Nuggets have to find ways to rest him during the season. Giving him two-minute long rests between stints isn’t going to cut it. The Nuggets have to remove him from the bench rotation or sit him entirely. There’s just too much at stake to be entering the postseason with Murray hobbled. Rest him, cut down on the minutes, and get ready for the playoffs. There’s nothing left for him to prove in the regular season.

Michael Porter Jr. showed up in a big way

During the third quarter, the Nuggets were down by over 20 points on multiple occasions. Murray played better in the third, and Jokić found some gaps to exploit, but the big story was Porter. He shined brightly in that third, hitting both open and contested three-pointers to help cut the Raptors lead to just six points. He also found opportunities for drives, passes, and defensive plays, doing everything the Nuggets needed him to do in that stretch.

Porter only finished with 23 points, but he did so on 13 shots, hitting 5-of-9 from three-point range and giving the Nuggets an injection of life when they needed it most. Obviously, the Nuggets didn’t get it done, but Porter wasn’t the reason why. He gave the Nuggets a chance, and they just couldn’t capitalize.

This was an important performance for Porter. He played 33 minutes and played well, just two days after he was benched in the third quarter on Sunday against the Brooklyn Nets. The Nuggets needed Porter to be great, especially with Murray struggling, and he was in his limited shot attempts. At some point soon, the Nuggets are going to need to unleash Porter, give him some of Murray’s shot attempts if he can get them in the flow of the offense. There’s a chance he could put up some seriously crooked numbers with how he’s currently shooting the ball.

The Nuggets have lost focus too soon

With their fourth loss in a row, Nuggets fans are getting worried. They’re hoping for signs of a 1 seed to emerge, but the Nuggets appear to have lost focus a bit too early after getting an important win against the Memphis Grizzlies a couple weeks ago.

The Nuggets defense in the first quarter tonight was impressively bad. The Raptors hit their shots, but they didn’t have to work hard to get the ball into the paint. Once the ball got there, either the Raptors hit shots over Denver’s shoddy interior defense or kicked out for open threes. It was an easy formula, made even easier by a Nuggets team that didn’t try to disrupt anything the Raptors were doing at any point of the process.

Things got better after the first quarter, as the Nuggets allowed just 76 points the rest of the way. Unfortunately, the Nuggets are back to learning that they have to play defense for four quarters on the road, not two or three. The defense and focus has to always be there, or else games like tonight happen and things spiral quickly.

The Nuggets look like they’ve been hit by a mack truck over the course of the last week. Things aren’t going well, the rotations are out of whack, and the team hasn’t responded well. Now is the time for that to change. The Nuggets will play in Detroit on Thursday, and they will have to bring their A-game regardless of their opponent’s quality. Playing a strong game for 48 minutes will stem the tide a bit, and the Nuggets clearly need to stem the tide.

Because right now, it’s washing them away.

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