By the time that the full slate of NBA games had concluded on December 5th, 2018, it was the Denver Nuggets who owned sole possession of the first seed in the Western Conference, a seven-game winning streak, a five-game road winning streak, and a 17-7 record after beating the Orlando Magic.
The Nuggets are stacking wins rapidly and forcibly showing the rest of the league that they are a team to be feared. The Nuggets took care of business once again thanks to Jamal Murray’s 31 points and Nikola Jokic’s 13 assists en route to a 124-118 overtime victory in Orlando.
There was a lot that transpired over 53 total minutes of game action, so without further ado, here are five takeaways from the Nuggets road victory over the Magic.
Denver’s bench mob was great once again
Throughout a season full of ups-and-downs, there has been exactly one constant for the Nuggets and that has been the play of their bench unit. Seemingly every single night, the bench unit comes through in a big way and Denver’s overtime win over Orlando was just another example of exactly that.
Against the Magic, Denver’s bench had 44 points on 16-of-24 from the field and 4-of-7 from 3-point distance while also playing great defense. Their first stint of the game was not the greatest, but in the second half and overtime, every individual involved in the Nuggets’ bench mob — Malik Beasley, Monte Morris, Trey Lyles, and Mason Plumlee — all had a positive plus/minus and their effort guarding the Magic set the tone for the Nuggets defensive resurgence in the fourth quarter and overtime.
Denver’s bench unit playing well is happening so consistently that it is almost becoming expected. There are few bench units in the NBA as lethal as the Nuggets’ group of reserves and they have been huge in their 17-7 start to the season.
Jamal Murray puts up another 30-point game
Even with both Gary Harris and Will Barton sidelined with injuries, Murray just continues to find ways to produce for the Nuggets when they need him to.
With both Harris and Barton hurt, pretty much all of the ball handling responsibilities fell on Murray’s shoulders and he met that challenge head on. Murray had eight assists on the night against just one single turnover. Murray’s playmaking has improved tremendously over the past few games. It seems that he has taken it upon himself to take better care of the basketball and to get his teammates more involved.
Murray was much more than just a facilitator and, despite playing through a calf injury and tweaking his ankle during the game, he managed to score a game-high 31 points for the Nuggets on the road. He was hitting all types of difficult shots, but his most important bucket was a 3-pointer in overtime off of a feed from Nikola Jokic. That 3-point shot is what eventually led to the Nuggets victory.
Without Murray’s playmaking in addition to his scoring, the Nuggets would likely have left the city of Orlando with a loss, and not a victory.
Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray carried the Nuggets in overtime
When the going got tough, the Nuggets two best players — and the future of the franchise — got tougher. Jokic and Murray accounted for 11 of of the Nuggets 12 points in overtime.
Murray was able to make four of his five free throw attempts in the overtime period and he also added in the biggest shot of the night which was his dagger 3-pointer that virtually gave the Nuggets their seventh-consecutive victory.
Nikola Jokic only had two points of his own in the final five minute overtime period, but he added in two assists which led to a layup by Millsap and also to Murray’s big-time 3-pointer.
The only point that Jokic or Murray did not account for was Millsap’s singular made free throw, but the most important point still stands — when the Nuggets needed their best players to carry them to a win, Jokic and Murray were able to deliver.
Nuggets offense was great for three quarters, but their defense carried them to their overtime win
The Nuggets biggest strength lies in their versatility. They can win with offense or defense. Their starters or bench unit can beat teams. The can play fast or slow. They can play small or big. Against the Magic, it took all of the options above to come away with a win.
Both the bench unit and starting unit played well. Denver played Jokic and Plumlee together for stretches and played small for stretches. Even with all of that versatility, the main reason Denver won was because their offense kept the game close for three quarters and their defense locked the victory down late in the game.
In the first three quarters, the Magic shot 57.4 percent from the field and 53.3 percent from 3-point distance, but despite that freakish offensive efficiency, Denver was still within striking distance. Then, once the fourth quarter and the ensuing overtime period emerged, Denver’s defense stiffened up and held the Magic to just 29.4 percent from the field and 21.1 percent from the 3-point line.
It was Denver’s offense that kept the game close, but it was their defense that won them the game.
Nuggets taking care of business on the road
All the way throughout the 2017-18 Nuggets season, they only managed to rack up a meager 15 wins on the road. Now, through just 24 games of the 2018-19 season, the Nuggets already have eight road wins.
Denver is finding ways to win on the road and it seems that their dominant defense has a lot to do with it. As stated above, the Nuggets offense kept them within striking distance of the Magic in Orlando, but it was their defense late in the game that won them the game.
After their win in Orlando, the Nuggets have now won five-straight road games against strong competition. In the past five road games, Denver has defeated the Minnesota Timberwolves, Oklahoma City Thunder, Portland Trail Blazers Toronto Raptors, and now the Orlando Magic in succession. Those teams have a combined record of 75-48 which is good for a winning percentage of 60.9 percent and yet, the Nuggets found ways to best them all.
If the Nuggets can continue to find ways to win on the road while staying dominant within the friendly confines of the Pepsi Center, they will be even more of a threat than they already are.