Good, bad, and ugly: Nuggets fall to 9-2 after loss to Memphis

Nov 7, 2018; Memphis, TN, USA; Memphis Grizzlies guard Mike Conley (11) battles for the ball with Denver Nuggets guard Gary Harris (14) at FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 7, 2018; Memphis, TN, USA; Memphis Grizzlies guard Mike Conley (11) battles for the ball with Denver Nuggets guard Gary Harris (14) at FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

On Wednesday evening, the Denver Nuggets faced the Memphis Grizzlies, but fell 89-87 in an ugly matchup with the opportunity to win the game on the final possession ending their five-game winning streak. The Nuggets now have two losses on the season and both have come on the road. With that, I give you the good, bad and ugly of the Nuggets loss.

The Good – Pleasant surprises

Although Denver had an ugly game offensively, they are still playing good overall basketball. They still sit near the top of the Western conference and are still playing the best defense that they have played since Michael Malone was hired.

Denver has the second best defensive rating (101.6) in the entire league behind only the Boston Celtics. Denver is locked in defensively and playing team ball. That is what has played into their successful start.

Wednesday’s game marks the sixth time that the Nuggets have kept the opposing team under 100 points in 11 total games. Their defense has been the their best improvement from last season. Alongside those defensive improvements, the Nuggets have benefitted from surprisingly impressive play from the second unit.

Malone spoke about the second unit after the game stating,“I think found a group of players that played hard in that bench unit.”

When it looked as if the game was going to get out of hand in the third quarter for Denver, it was the bench play that started a 7-0 run to get the Nuggets back in the game. Denver’s bench finished with 41 points to Memphis’ 26 and the reserves attempted to keep the Nuggets in the game all night. They were led by Trey Lyles who finished with 16 points and nine rebounds as well as Mason Plumlee who had 10 points and six rebounds. Denver has to find ways to get the offense going soon, but for now, the defense and bench unit is staying consistent which will allow the Nuggets to continue their successful start.

The Bad – Turnovers still a concern

It was only the second loss of the season and Denver still remains undefeated at home, but their matchup with the Grizziles was definitely a road game that the Nuggets should have won. There were plenty of mistakes and areas of growth beginning with the starters.

“It was a rough night for our starters,” Malone said. “But we will bounce back.”

Denver’s starting unit’s bovine ways have been a bit concerning. There is no spark to begin games, the offense has a hard time getting things going and the Nuggets have had to use the second unit as a source of energy each time out.

While Denver has shown massive improvements in particular areas — such as defense — they are still struggling in others. The biggest area of concern heading into the game for Malone was turnovers.

“I talked about it this morning, turnovers,” Malone said. “We had 19 turnovers for 23 points and that’s going to make it real hard on yourself against a quality opponent.”

The Nuggets had nine turnovers at the half and Jokic had five of them on his own. Denver did not change that around in the second half and it ended up being an area that allowed Memphis to gain and maintain the lead. Denver did not take care of the basketball and it was the difference in the game. For Denver, their turnover issues must change going forward.

The Ugly – Jokic refuses to score

Jokic is off to an unusual start to the season, especially on the offensive end. Jokic is one of the most gifted offensive players in the league as he has a unique ability to impact the game in multiple ways and is one of the league’s best passers. Lately, that is all that he has been doing.

“Obviously we would like for him to take more shots.” Said Malone as he spoke to media following Wednesday’s loss. “He is not shooting the ball and we have to figure out why.”

On the same day that Jokic was fined $25,000 for an inappropriate comment made during a post-game interview, the Serbian center had the worst game of the young season. Although Jokic was the only Nuggets starter that didn’t finish with a negative plus-minus he finished with only four points, four assists and had seven rebounds in 25 minutes. What was even worse was he had five personal fouls, led the team in turnovers and took only one field goal attempt and it came on this shot on the final play of the game.

Jokic averaged a career-high 13.5 field goal attempts a game last season and scored a career-high 18.5 points a game. Through 11 games, he is at 10.2 shots a game with his rookie season being the last time his shots were this low. He is averaging only 4.5 attempts over his last four games and Denver is hoping it changes soon.

“He’s got to be aggressive.” Jamal Murray said in the locker room after the game. “But he’s making plays for other players so it’s just a balance of how much you want him to pass because he is a great passer or how much you want him to shoot.”

Jokic does not have to take every shot. He is a player that can effect the game in so many ways and that is what makes him special. But he is a max contract player and is unequivocally the best player on the team. His reluctance to shoot the ball and choosing to pick up a-24 second shot clock violation instead of taking a shot until the final possession is what has left fans frustrated.

Jokic did have a stretch similar to this last season and played some of the best basketball of his career for the rest of the season. Let’s hope that he gets back to that play because Denver will need him to be his aggressive and creative self soon. His first opportunity is Friday evening when the Nuggets welcome in the Brooklyn Nets.

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