The Denver Nuggets were finally back at the Pepsi Center after an 10-day road trip. Denver had their seven game win streak snapped by the Charlotte Hornets the game prior to Atlanta and in the game took a devastating loss to defensive anchor Paul Millsap with the team already depleted.
On Monday night, the battered Denver squad put together a solid performance in their first game back to the Pepsi Center in a 105-99 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies. The Nuggets defense come alive to steal the show yet again and, with that, I give you the good, bad and ugly.
The Good – Concerted effort
When a team is down their starting shooting guard, small forward and power forward, there are alterations and difficult decisions that a coach must make to ensure that the team still has a chance to win the game. Head coach Michael Malone made those decisions and it resulted in another victory for the third place Nuggets.
Nikola Jokic took over the game in every aspect as he played with fire throughout the night. He led all scorers with 27 points, but also recorded 12 rebounds and six assists as well to go along with it. He looked for his own shot and got it going against a strong defensive team, but also got others involved and was engaged on the defensive end of the floor as well.
Alongside him was Jamal Murray, who entered the game with a questionable tag on the night as he has been going through injuries of his own. Murray showed the resiliency that has been on display throughout his career as he went out and set the tone with a 16-point performance and also had five assists and four steals.
Morris was also big for Denver as he poured in 20 points and also had five assists and six rebounds on the night. It wasn’t only the big shots, but the timing of those shots that was most important as he was the lone Nuggets player that kept Denver afloat for the third quarter when Memphis made their push.
Morris has proved all season long that he is not afraid of the moment as showed up once again. With the Nuggets down so many players it would have to be up to the bench unit to carry the load and Morris did just that as he played 28 minutes on the night and his play late in the game is a huge part of the reason that the Nuggets won.
Monte Morris stole the show and got high praise from his head coach.
“I think Monte was the MVP of the game,” Malone said. “He was phenomenal tonight. His floor game, his shot making, his rebounding, his playmaking. We don’t win that game without Monte.”
To cap it off, Mason Plumlee was also great. Plumlee entered the starting lineup for the injured Millsap and showed his energy throughout the night. He put up 12 points and 10 rebounds, but his play on the defensive end is exactly what the Nuggets needed to win the game. He guarded both Marc Gasol, who finished with only seven points, and Jaren Jackson Jr., who recorded six points on the night. Plumlee made things difficult on that end of the court for Memphis including this play:
Mason Plumlee pic.twitter.com/3NKCYFUV0s
— Max Carlin (@mcarlinwustl) December 11, 2018
The Nuggets will need more of a concerted effort if they plan on continuing to win games and getting it done on the defensive end with help from their bench will go a long way.
The Bad – Lydon and Lyles Struggle
With so many players down, it was known that the bench unit would be called on early and often for the Nuggets and it is expected that they respond as well as they have all season long. The only issue is that this was not the typical bench unit. The Nuggets were down to only two original starters which means that there would have to be a different variation of the bench unit against the Grizzlies.
Despite being a player that plays only 3.6 minutes a game and typically goes into the game for garbage time at the end of games, Malone called on Tyler Lydon early to impact the game. Lydon was put in the game for his first meaningful minutes of his NBA career as Malone wanted to match Memphis’ great size as well as his ability to knock down shots.
Unfortunately for Lydon and the Nuggets, his time on the floor was brief. He only played two minutes until Malone opted to insert Jamal Murray back into the game instead instead. In those two minutes Lydon had a rebound opportunity that he whiffed on, could not keep up with his defender, and looked as if the game was still just too fast for him. He will have to make the best of every opportunity and now is the time to make a stand.
Another player that under performed for the bench unit was Trey Lyles. Lyles has been a player that has been up and down to start the year and right now is definitely a down time for him. He has been in a bit of funk as of late. In the last four games Lyles is averaging 8.8 points a game, but is only shooting an abysmal 27.3 percent from the field. To make matters worse he is shooting 15 percent from beyond the arc and has not been the player that he was to start the year.
With players down for a significant amount of time and the Western conference being so tight, the Nuggets bench unit will have to continue their dominant play if Denver wants to continue its winning ways.
The Ugly — Bad Timing
Injuries are a part of the game as every single team in the league is going through an injury of sorts, but the timing of the Nuggets injuries is what makes things so difficult. Denver just went through a five-game road trip and, in that same time frame, they also some of their best players go down which has put Denver in a bind moving forward.
Denver already headed into the year without their off season acquisition Isaiah Thomas. They also have been without draft picks Jarred Vanderbilt and Michael Porter Jr., both of whom still do not have a timetable for their return. When looking at the injuries that have occurred during the year in addition to Porter, Vanderbilt, and Thomas, things become even more alarming.
Denver has been without Will Barton since the second game of the year due to a hip/core injury that required surgery. Gary Harris has been in and out of the starting lineup but is now down for a projected 3-to-4 weeks also with a hip injury. The latest injury came in the loss to Charlotte when Millsap went down with a broken toe. He is projected to be down for 4-to-6 weeks. The Nuggets roster is depleted.
Denver is coming off of a five-game road stint and now head back home for four games which is a positive for one of the best home teams in the NBA, but when looking at the schedule, the injuries could not have come at a worse time.
Denver is set to face off against the Thunder, Raptors and Mavericks next and reinforcements could not come any sooner.