The Denver Nuggets are coming off of their best defensive games of the entire season while also ending a three-game skid. Additionally, they welcomed Paul Millsap back to the lineup on Monday as well in the same win against the Miami Heat where the Nuggets limited Miami to only 87 points on the night.
Denver has been struggling mightily on the defensive end of the floor so it was refreshing to see them get back to defending at a high level. They attempted to do just that again against one of the hottest teams in the entire NBA, the Sacramento Kings.
Sacramento came into the game as winners of five of their last six games. Their young core of De’Aaron Fox, Marvin Bagley III and Buddy Hield have the Kings in the midst of the Western Conference playoff race. They came into the Pepsi Center and pushed it at the Nuggets all night, but in the end it was the Nuggets who prevailed thanks to a Nikola Jokic triple-double of 20 points, 11 assists and 18 rebounds and his game-winning tip-in layup with 0.3 seconds left on the clock.
Here is the good, bad and ugly as the Nuggets head into the All-Star break with their best start in team history.
Good – Thomas returns
As great of a game as it was for Jokic, it just would not be right if the long-awaited return of Isaiah Thomas was not the good in this game.
Thomas has been a beacon of hope for many in the NBA world with his passion for the game and uncanny ability to put the ball in the basket. Both of those finally came into fruition on Wednesday night when he returned after an 11-month hiatus.
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) February 14, 2019
In the third quarter, Thomas came to life as he went for eight-straight points and re-energized the Nuggets on a night that they were looking for life.
Thomas lived up to the hype which sparked the Nuggets run and ensured the win. He provided energy, displayed his big shot-making abilities which had the team rallying after a half in which they struggled, and the Pepsi Center crowd and teammates could not be happier.
Bad – First-quarter woes
The NBA All-Star break could not come sooner for Denver.
Sacramento came into the game hot yet again and the first quarter woes continued for the Nuggets. Denver was slow on rotations, did not communicate on screens, allowed open shots and the Kings went into the second quarter with a 41-30 lead.
Sacramento shot 66 percent from the field and also knocked down five 3-pointers in the first quarter as well. The Nuggets did not have answers on how to slow them down offensively as the Kings led by as many as 15 points in the quarter.
For the past few weeks, the first quarter defense has been an issue for Denver and Malone has spoken on his team’s early issues on multiple occasions. Against Miami it looked as if Denver solved those problems. They had Millsap come back and provide his defensive presence, but the same issue to appeared days later.
The defense had gotten so bad that Malone had to burn two different early timeouts, implement Isaiah Thomas into the game early as well as get ejected to try and manufacture energy for his team.
Hield was the main culprit for the defensive lapses as he finished the quarter with 11 of his 25 points on the night. He got an easy lay-in, finished on the fast break and also knocked down a shot from beyond the arc to keep Sacramento ahead early.
Denver pulled it together in the second quarter and rallied back to get all the way within five points thanks to timely offense and finally pulling it together defensively, but a major emphasis for the second half of the season will have to be on the defense to start the game.
Ugly – Technical fouls to go around
In the second quarter, Malik Beasley went in for a drive to the bucket and got hit by a Sacramento defender while missing the shot, but there was a no call.
Malone took offense to the missed call and made sure that the referees heard him. He went all the way onto the court to let out his frustrations.
Assistant coach Unseld Jr. attempted to pull back Malone, but he was too committed on his stance and that led to the Nuggets head coach getting ejected.
Michael Malone's All-Star Weekend kicked-off a little earlier than expected. pic.twitter.com/AV2AXkbYRV
— Sean Cunningham (@SeanCunningham) February 14, 2019
As if that were not enough, the officials threw another member of the Nuggets out of the game as well. In the fourth quarter Beasley and Bogdan Bogdanovic got into it as Hield knocked down a 3-pointer and both were called for a double-technical.
A few plays later, Beasley got the ball on a fast break and attacked the rim and got his shot to fall. He taunted Bogdanovic on his way back down the court which led to an ejection.
The referees were not generous to the Nuggets on Wednesday and the game was chippy throughout the night.