Five takeaways: Nuggets fall to Rockets for fourth-straight loss

Houston Rockets center Clint Capela (15) guards Denver Nuggets guard Gary Harris (14) in the second quarter at the Pepsi Center.
Nov 13, 2018; Denver, CO, USA; Houston Rockets center Clint Capela (15) guards Denver Nuggets guard Gary Harris (14) in the second quarter at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets have now lost four-straight games overall and eight games in a row to the Houston Rockets after falling 109-99 at the Pepsi Center Tuesday night.

It was a sour loss for the debut of the Nuggets new rainbow skyline uniforms as the team is searching for answers. They are currently in the mist of their first losing streak of the season and, even with the loss, Denver is still in third place in the Western Conference. They have a record of 9-5 and are just a game-and-a-half behind the Portland Trailblazers for first place in the Northwest Division.

Even though it might feel like the sky is falling for the Nuggets, the standings really have not changed during their four-game skid. It is definitely something the team needs to snap out of though, and they will get a chance to do just that when the Atlanta Hawks come to town Thursday night.

So, without further ado, let’s dive into tonight’s five takeaways.

Gary Harris finds a rhythm offensively, but losses it as the game wears on  

Denver was looking to find some sort of offensive rhythm and it was Harris who provided the Nuggets with a spark early in the first quarter. Harris’ 11 first-quarter points were highlighted by going 3-4 from 3-point range, where he finally seemed to have found his shot again.

After starting the game hot, Denver struggled to get the ball to Harris for the final three quarters. Harris finished the game with just 15 points on 6-of-13 shooting from the field and 3-of-6 from behind the three-point line. After shooting four threes in the first quarter, Harris shot just two more the rest of the night and only four points in the final three quarters because of it.

Even with Harris struggling to score for the final three quarters, he still impacted the game defensively with four steals. Those steals were key to a number of offensive breakouts for Denver, but still were not enough to overcome the efficiency of the Rockets on both ends of the floor.

Harris is now shooting 29.4 percent from three-point range on the season, while upping his field goal percentage to 43.1 percent. Neither number is solid for a player as offensively gifted as Harris, but is certainly a step in the right direction for one of the Nuggets prime offensive weapons.

Monte Morris continues to make a big impact off the bench 

This is becoming a theme in these five takeaways, but Morris continues to give people reasons to talk about his play. The consistency Morris has brought all season has been key in Denver’s success, and that continued on Tuesday night against Houston.

As the first Nuggets player off the bench, Morris immediately made an impact drilling a three-pointer setting the tone for his play the rest of the night.

That three was Morris’ third of the first half, where he had 11 points on 4-6 shooting from the field, 3-4 from downtown. Scoring wasn’t the only thing Morris showcased though as he also did an incredible job getting his teammates involved.

Morris finished the first half with four assists to go along with a surprising two turnovers. Both of those turnovers came on questionable travel calls against Morris, which he certainly overshadowed with his incredible no-look pass to Nikola Jokic for the easy lay in.

As great as his first half was, Morris played even better in the final two quarters en route to a season-high 31 minutes. Morris finished as the leading scorer for Denver with 19 points on 7-11 shooting from the field and he dished out six assists in the process. Even with two turnovers, Morris still leads the NBA in assist to turnover ratio and is now second on the Nuggets in assists per game with four assists per contest.

The stats certainly tell most of the story, but just by watching Morris play you can tell how important he is to this Nuggets team. Morris consistently plays with an energy and a poise on the floor that can not be matched by any other Nuggets player, and it is a big reason as to why he has gotten so much playing time as of late. If Morris continuities playing at this high of a level, Denver may need him to play over 30 minutes on a nightly basis like he did on Tuesday night.

The Nuggets bench unit continues to be a bright spot  

Just like with Morris, the strong play of the Nuggets bench unit is becoming a regular occurrence in these five takeaways. That is because of the play from Morris, Torrey Craig, Malik Beasley, Trey Lyles, and especially Mason Plumlee has been great. From the moment the bench unit checked in against the Rockets, they were firing on all cylinders yet again.

That dunk gave the Nuggets their biggest lead of the night of seven points and highlighted the incredible play from Plumlee in his five first-half minutes. Plumlee’s minute totals were so low in the first half because he picked up three fouls, but he was still able to contribute four points, two assists, and one rebound in his limited action.

Denver’s bench scored 23 points in the first half outscoring Houston’s bench by 11. That point differential was key in the Nuggets taking a one point lead at the half, and became even more important as the second half wore on.

The Nuggets finished the game out scoring Houston’s bench by 22 points (36-14), which was highlighted by 19 points from Morris. Not all the scoring came from the Nuggets back up point guard though as Lyles also chipped in eight points in his 12 minutes of action. Craig made an appearance towards the end of the third quarter and immediately made his presence known with a dunk off a great backdoor cut. He finished the game with five points after drilling a big three and had a great block in the fourth quarter.

For a team in the mist of a tough losing streak, the bench unit continues to be one of the lone bright spots from this Nuggets squad. The second unit has continuously kept Denver in the game, but it just was not enough to overcome a tough Rockets team on Tuesday night.

The Rockets big three comes alive in the second half, especially James Harden 

Denver had a tough time stopping Houston’s big three in the second half and it was one of the biggest reasons as to why they were not able to get back into the game. After scoring just three points in the first half, Harden went off in the second half and finished the game with 22 points on 7-of-16 shooting from the field.

Even with Harden’s 3-point shot not falling, he still affected the game in other ways by driving to the basket and getting to the free-throw line. Harden finished the night 6-of-8 from the charity stripe to go along with his five rebounds and game-high 11 assists.

Harden was just part of the problem though as Chris Paul and Clint Capela gave the Nuggets fits all night long. Capela finished as the Rockets leading scorer with 24 points on an efficient 11-15 shooting from the field. Paul followed suit with 21 points on 7-12 shooting from the field to go along with five rebounds, four assists, and two steals.

With those three Rockets combining to score 67 points, it put the Nuggets in a hole that was just too deep to climb out of. In no way is it easy to stop either of those three on a nightly basis, but they all certainly had their way against the Nuggets on Tuesday night.

Nikola Jokic seems to be finding his groove again 

After his struggles in Memphis just one week ago, it seems as if the Nuggets franchise player has put that game behind him and has finally been able to get back on track in the last three games. Yes, all three of those games have been losses, but Jokic’s offensive groove is back and the game against Houston was just another example of that.

The continued aggressiveness Jokic has been playing with offensively was on display against Houston as he finished the night with a solid stat line of 14 points, 12 rebounds, and seven assists. Jokic shot an effective 6-14 from the field and coupled that with four offensive rebounds and two steals.

In his 32 minutes of action, Jokic played well and was a key piece in keeping Denver within striking distance of Houston. With a tough matchup going against Capela all night, Jokic held his own and made his presence in the post known throughout the game.

With the Nuggets were looking to snap a four game losing streak against the Hawks, Jokic will have to play another big game to snap the streak and get Denver back into the win column. After posting three-straight solid stat lines, it is safe to say that Jokic could be in for a big night on Thursday against Atlanta.