Good, bad, and ugly: Nuggets battle past Spurs for their 22nd win

Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray (27) controls the ball during the second half against the San Antonio Spurs at the Pepsi Center.
Dec 28, 2018; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray (27) controls the ball during the second half against the San Antonio Spurs at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Somehow, someway, the Denver Nuggets were able to scrape and claw their way to their 22nd victory to hold onto the first seed in the Western Conference on Friday night. The San Antonio Spurs did everything they could to beat the Nuggets for a second time in three days, but the resilient Nuggets found a way to eek out a win when they desperately needed one.

Thankfully, Jamal Murray was finally able to get hot as a shooter and saw the ball go through the net more than a few times. When Murray wasn’t burning down the nets within the Pepsi Center, Nikola Jokic was throwing highlight reel passes to anyone and everyone who managed to get open. Even with all of the good things that Denver did in their game against San Antonio, their turnovers and the rough play of Trey Lyles almost led to their downfall.

With all of that being said, here is the good, bad and ugly from the Nuggets 102-99 win over the Spurs.

Good — Jamal Murray breaks out of shooting slump

Jamal Murray is one of the most gifted shooters in the National Basketball Association, but by looking at his numbers, most people would disagree.

Murray is shooting just 42.1 percent from the field and 29.7 percent from 3-point range this season and, over the last ten games, Murray is averaging 19.1 points, but he is doing so while shooting just 42.3 percent from the field and 26.8 percent from deep. Simply stated, Murray has not lived up to his potential as a shooter this season.

But against the Spurs, all of that changed.

Murray was able to accumulate 31 points on 13-27 shooting from the field and 4-7 from 3-point range in his 40 minutes of action against the San Antonio Spurs even after rolling his ankle pretty badly in the fourth quarter. He was hitting all kinds of tough shots as he carried the Nuggets offense when needed.

With Denver dealing with so many injuries, they desperately need Murray to play well and help keep them afloat. Against the Spurs, that is exactly what Murray did.

Bad — Trey Lyles continues to struggle

It is becoming impossible to ignore how badly Lyles has struggled this season. Denver had hoped that Lyles would step into a larger role this season, but Lyles has made it virtually impossible to give him more minutes than he is already receiving.

Lyles is shooting an atrocious 40.8 percent from the field and just 24.3 percent from 3-point distance throughout the 2018-19 season so far, but even those numbers looks strong in comparison to Lyles’ production, or lack thereof, in December. The final month of 2018 has been anything but cheerful for Lyles who is averaging 7.9 points per game on 32.3 percent shooting from the field and 19.5 percent from 3-point distance. Those awful numbers continued against the Spurs on Friday night as Lyles shot 1-of-10 from the field and missed all three of his 3-point attempts.

At this point, if the Nuggets ever get healthy, Lyles may find himself out of the rotation. He has not been the offensive multi-tool that Denver had hoped and he is compounding the issue by not playing strong defense. Oh, and his rebounding and assist numbers have fallen off as well while his turnovers have climbed. It has not been a good start to the season for Lyles who is in the midst of a contract year.

Ugly — Nuggets turnover issues return

For the majority of the 2018-19 season, the Nuggets have done a wonderful job of taking care of the basketball and not making careless turnovers. Through 33 games, the Nuggets are committing the 10th-least turnovers with just 14.2 giveaways per game when last year they were the 23rd worst team in the league in terms of giving up turnovers.

Unfortunately, that is not how things went against the Spurs.

The Nuggets turned the ball over a season-worst 21 times against the Spurs and San Antonio made Denver pay for it. The Spurs were essentially gifted 16 points off of Denver turnovers and it almost led to Denver’s third consecutive loss.

There was no worse offender than Murray who had two very rough turnovers late in the fourth quarter on his way to four turnovers in his 40 minutes of playing time. Nikola Jokic also had six turnovers in the game against the Spurs, but many of his giveaways were more of the fault of his teammates than his own. Mason Plumlee, Torrey Craig, and Trey Lyles each had three turnovers of their own as well. If not for the fact that San Antonio missed four of their last eight free throws, Denver likely would have left the Pepsi Center on Friday night with a loss.

Denver is thanking their lucky stars tonight that their turnovers were not as detrimental as they could have been.

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