The Denver Nuggets kickstarted the 2019-20 season on the road against the team that they fell to in Game 7 in the Western Conference semifinals, the Portland Trail Blazers.
Despite the two teams already seeing each other twice in the preseason, there was still the element of surprise which called for a very entertaining nationally televised match. The Nuggets did not play to their liking but still managed to escape with a 108-100 despite their best player essentially playing only a half of a game.
With that, I give you the good, bad and ugly.
Good – Bench unit stands out
Continuity was one of the key elements that Denver wanted to build on heading into this season as they essentially made only one offseason move bringing in Jerami Grant to an already talented bunch.
Other than that, it is the exact same Nuggets squad that was only a game away from the Western Conference Finals. Their identity is best illustrated through their depth and incredible chemistry.
Both of those characteristics were surely on display in Wednesday’s game against Portland that saw Denver’s bench unit carry the load early on for the Nuggets and start the season off with a bang.
Denver got off to a stagnant start in the first quarter, but took a lead into the halftime intermission behind the play of their bench and eventually rode that momentum to victory.
At the half, the Nuggets starters had only 26 points, but their bench had 28 points which showcased their impressive depth.
Malik Beasley and Grant got in the game and kept the energy flowing for Denver as they helped the Nuggets fight back in the game after a sluggish start. Monte Morris also had a major contribution as he led the second unit. The offense flows seamlessly when he is in the game as he is in complete control and the Nuggets who were heralded with having the most depth in the league last year picked up exactly where they left off and carried the Nuggets to a gutsy win.
Bad – Jokic forced to sit
Denver’s offense looked a bit out of sync in the first half so they looked to the bench to kickstart the offense.
The main reason for that was because they were missing their most important piece early on due to foul trouble.
Nikola Jokic’s season did not begin the way that he wanted it to as he picked up three quick fouls in just four minutes played.
As a result, he sat for the entire first half as Malone decided to keep his big man out of further foul trouble and preserve him for a huge second half.
That ended up being the best decision in the game.
With Jokic out of the game, Hassan Whiteside made his presence felt as he finished the game with an efficient 16 points to go with 19 rebounds as well which helped keep Portland in the game.
After Jokic finally settled down in the second half, he got back to his dominant ways.
Jokic finished off the game with a team-high 20 points and 13 rebounds in basically half of the game played.
He started out slowly, but put his stamp on the game including back-to-back three-point daggers late in the game to put Portland away.
Luckily for Denver, their bench depth built a lead and stayed around long enough for Jokic to become the unsung hero of the game, but foul trouble remains an area that Denver’s franchise player must get better at.
Ugly – Backcourt struggles
With much of the emphasis on Jokic sitting for most of the game due to foul trouble, one of the opportunities that his absence presented was for other players to step up.
The Nuggets starting backcourt was an easy pick to take on the challenge; however, they were not the group that stepped up on that end.
Although Denver’s backcourt had an outstanding game defensively, there was much left to be desired offensively.
Denver remained steady as they built a lead heading into the half, but was held to 19 points in the third quarter. With a starting backcourt of Jamal Murray and Gary Harris, there should have been some offense coming from somewhere. Wednesday night was not their game.
Murray started out the game hitting multiple shots from beyond the arc, but cooled down as he finished off the night with 14 points as he shot 4-14 from the field with two turnovers. Harris also had an inefficient night as he finished off the game with only eight points, but went 3-11 from the field and finished with a team-high five turnovers.
For all of the ways that Denver struggled tonight they still picked up their first win of the season and it was against a team that was in the conference finals last year.
With Jokic playing an entire game as well as the backcourt playing up to their full potential, this is a team that can do something special this year, but consistency will have to be key.