Good, bad and ugly: Nuggets escape with seventh win in a row

Dec 5, 2018; Orlando, FL, USA; Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray (27) shoots over Orlando Magic guard Evan Fournier (10) as Magic forward Jonathan Isaac (1) and Nuggets forward Paul Millsap (4) look on during the second half at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 5, 2018; Orlando, FL, USA; Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray (27) shoots over Orlando Magic guard Evan Fournier (10) as Magic forward Jonathan Isaac (1) and Nuggets forward Paul Millsap (4) look on during the second half at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The Nuggets remain in first place in the Western Conference standings as they went on to beat the Orlando Magic 124-118 on Wednesday evening. Their win in Orlando was Denver’s seventh victory in a row.

Of those seven wins, five of them came on the road and Denver now not only has the best record out West, but the best record on the road as well. It seems that Denver is finding new ways to win.

There were moments in the game that things became dicey, but the Nuggets persevered as they have been doing all season long. The win was not pretty it pushed the Nuggets to a 17-7 overall record. With that I give you the good, bad and ugly.

The Good – Overall effort translates to a win

The Altitude Sports broadcast said that Jamal Murray has been dealing with injuries of his own and that has possibly had an impact in his play as of late but Murray, who never uses excuses to explain his play, blocked out any idea of an injury with a gutsy performance.

Murray finished with a game high 31 points on 10-of-25 shooting and also had recorded eight assists as well. He hit timely shots, applied pressure on the defense all night and was Denver’s hot hand for the entirety of the game, but Denver would not have came away with a win without some help.

Nikola Jokic continued to stuff the stat sheet. He finished with a near triple-double as he had 12 points, 13 assists and eight rebounds. Millsap had 18 points and Hernangomez also had 14 points on an ultra-efficient 6-of-8 from the field.

The bench play was the difference. Denver’s reserves continued to impress and they have remained consistent to start out the season. They did not have the type of game that they typically have, but they showed up most when it mattered. Denver’s bench finished with 44 points and set the tone for the second half. They knocked down shots, rebounded well and swarmed the Magic defensively. Three of the four players on the Nuggets bench finished with double digit point totals with Monte Morris leading the way with 13 points.

It was a solid overall game for Denver as everybody chipped in.

The Bad — 3-point shooting

The story of the Nuggets season so far has been the changes, effort and success that Denver has gone through on the defensive end of the floor. After finishing the past few seasons with one of the worst defenses in the entire league, it has been remarkable to see that through the first 25 games that the Nuggets have seriously become a top-five defense.

Players have made it a point to improve individually, the team is playing for each other, and the team has seemed to have bought in on that side of the ball. An area in particular that has stood out is the way that the Nuggets have defended the opposing team’s 3-point shooting. Denver went from a bottom-four 3-point defense for three years in a row to the top spot with hard work and a focus to change in that area. Unfortunately, against the Magic, that was not the case.

“The 3-point defense we have to be better at,” Malone said before taking a pause and going back on that topic. “We came in ranked as the number one 3-point defense and we gave up 20 (3-pointers).”

Malone said he felt as if this was one of the worst performances of the year and that he felt that the Nuggets were lucky to win the game because of how they defended from beyond the arc.

The Magic finished the game with 20 made 3-pointers and the worst part is there were plenty that just did not fall.  Six of those 20 made shots from beyond the arc were made by former Nuggets player Evan Fournier, Mo Bamba went a perfect 3-3 from beyond the arc, and Terrance Ross also knocked down three shots from beyond the arc including a huge 3-pointer with six seconds left in regulation to send the game to overtime.

Luckily for Denver, the Magic were on the second night of a back-to-back and it showed in the overtime period as Orlando missed crucial shots late. But that cannot be how the Nuggets want to win games. For Denver to continue winning, they have to go back and look at the tape and get back to defending from beyond the arc how they have been. Denver barely escaped with this win.

The Ugly – Injury bug 

The Nuggets went into their game on Wednesday without their starting shooting guard Gary Harris for a third time in the last four games. He is now sidelined yet again, but this time it is a hip injury giving him fits.

Harris has already been ruled out of the Nuggets contest against the Charlotte Hornets on Friday night, but he is still being listed as day-to-day as the Nuggets continue to go through the evaluation process to determine how serious the injury is.

Harris will remain out, but he is not the only player dealing with ailments.

Murray appears to be dealing with a calf issue in addition to his early season ankle soreness. Denver is already without two of their three draft picks in Michael Porter Jr. and Jared Vanderbilt. Denver’s free agent acquisition Isaiah Thomas is also out without a definite return date and the team has been without their starting small forward Will Barton since the second game of the season.

Still, with all of the injuries piling up, Denver has played well and are riding their best winning streak since the 2013 season when the team won 57 games.

The absence of both Harris and Barton are a big void to fill, but with how the bench has played and with the Nuggets adopting the next man up approach, it has become a full team effort where every single player is contributing.