Good, bad and ugly: Nuggets suffer their first loss of the year

Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) makes a shot over Denver Nuggets forward Torrey Craig (3) in the first quarter of the game at Staples Center.
Oct 2, 2018; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) makes a shot over Denver Nuggets forward Torrey Craig (3) in the first quarter of the game at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets went into Thursday night’s game against the Los Angeles Lakers with plenty to prove. The Lakers were on the second night of a back-to-back after recording their first win of the season on Wednesday night against the Phoenix Suns. In a game that was interesting game from start to finish, it was the Lakers who won the game 121-114 for their first home win of the season.

With Denver sustaining their first loss of the of the season, I give you the good, bad and ugly.

The Good – Nuggets getting national attention

Denver’s game on Thursday night against the Lakers was a primetime TNT nationally-televised game that brought celebrities from far and wide to watch LeBron James in Los Angeles against an up-and-coming Denver squad with high expectations for this season. Denver has been creating a buzz for themselves and in front of an always packed Staples Center crowd is typically where the casual fans get to sit amongst some of the biggest names in the world. Thursday was no different as Golf champion, Phil Mickelson, joined the telecast, undefeated boxing champion Floyd Mayweather was in attendance, and 18 time All-Star Kobe Bryant sat courtside to watch his former squad. While LeBron typically gets the bulk of the attention, it was refreshing to see Denver get praise for a majority of the game even getting Charles Barkley to say this:

Denver did not win the game, but did entertain as they usually do on national television. They are 4-1 on the season and still sit in second place in the Western conference with the Pelicans, Bulls and Cavaliers coming up on the schedule. With Reggie Miller and Charles Barkley praising Denver on a national scale, maybe the Nuggets will pick up a bit of momentum int terms of more national recognition. The Nuggets just have to keep winning games and the attention will surely come.

The Bad – Couldn’t capitalize against shorthanded Lakers

Thursday’s game was for the taking for the Nuggets. It was a game that they were set up to win. The Lakers were on the second night of a back-to-back and now was up against a soaring Denver team that had a day to rest while the Lakers were down multiple players. Starters Rajon Rondo and Brandon Ingram were still serving their suspensions from the Houston Rockets spit debacle which forced the Lakers to give rotational minutes to Michael Beasley, Johnathan Williams and even went as deep as using Svi Mykhailiuk.

When taking a look at the box score, one of the things that stands out is how the starters played for both teams. Six players got into double figures for the Lakers while the Nuggets starters struggled. Denver’s bench unit nearly doubled Los Angeles’ reserves in points, but still the Lakers were able to win the game. Denver had 74 points scored in the paint but shot poorly from beyond the arc which ultimately ended up being the story of the game. The Nuggets shot only 26 percent from the three-point line as they went 6-23 in the game and could not find a rhythm offensively despite scoring 114 points. LeBron recorded his first triple-double as a Laker with an impressive 28 points, 11 assists and 11 rebounds in the game as Denver had no answer for him. Former Nuggets center JaVale McGee also impacted the game with 21 points and recorded seven rebounds.

Denver went into the fourth quarter with a two-point lead and led by four points at the five-minute mark, but allowed Lance Stephenson to go on an 8-0 run to secure the win. If Denver wants to take the next step in their maturation as a team, they must capitalize late in games and limit their turnovers. Without having a veteran like Will Barton for the foreseeable future to close out games, it is up to the starters to find a way to close out games and keep the door shut with late leads.

The Ugly – Millsap still in a downward spiral

Paul Millsap is making a second-straight appearance as the ‘ugly’ portion of this piece. His offensive struggles have been well documented to start the season. He went 3-9 from the field including shooting 0-2 from beyond the arc, he is forcing plenty of shots in the post, and was not able to get to the free throw line despite numerous attempts when isolating.

Through five games, Millsap is averaging just 10.2 points and 8.4 rebounds a game and is shooting 37 percent from the field. Even worse is he is 1-8 from beyond the arc for a pedestrian 12.5 percent. There is no way to go around it, Millsap is not off to a great start and his play has been having fan reactions such as this.

One of the things must be taken into account is Millsap’s overall impact. He is the defensive anchor on a Nuggets team that has spent the past few years as one of the worst defenses in the entire league, but now — to start the year — Denver looks much improved and has the second-highest defensive rating in the NBA.

Millsap’s offense will eventually come and he will get back in the swing of things. By decreasing his number of isolations and post ups, it will allow Millsap to get a few easier baskets in the Jokic-led free-flowing offense.

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