The Denver Nuggets were ready for the second half of the season. They entered their matchup with the Dallas Mavericks on Friday night as the second seed in the Western Conference with a 39-18 overall record.
Dallas is powered by rookie sensation Luka Doncic, who looks like the runaway winner for rookie of the year. Unfortunately, he did not play due to ankle soreness so it was up to the others to attempt to secure a win against a scorching hot Denver squad.
The Nuggets came away victorious as all of their starters scored in double-digits and Isaiah Thomas led the reserves with 16 points to give the Nuggets a 114-104 victory and three-game winning streak. With that, I give you the good, bad and ugly.
Good – Big second half
The Nuggets picked up yet another victory as they beat the Mavericks by 10 points, but this was no ordinary win for Denver; it was their 15th road victory of the season. In the 2017-18 season, the Nuggets only won 15 games on the road all season. Now, with 12 more road games still upcoming, it is impressive that Denver has already matched their road-win total from last season.
With the guards having an off night offensively, it was the big men that really got things going for Denver.
Nikola Jokic had another stat stuffing performance to continue his solid play. He represented the Nuggets in the All-Star game and followed that up with a pedestrian 19 points, 13 rebounds, and eight assists. He understood that the Mavericks had nobody that could handle him down low.
Mason Plumlee was aggressive on the boards and that translated to him having such a great night offensively. He had plenty of hustle plays, brought great energy off of the bench and was forceful as he finished with 12 points and 13 rebounds in the game.
The surprise performance on the night came from Paul Millsap. Millsap is the defensive anchor for the Nuggets, but it was the offensive edge that he played with that turned things around for Denver. He did not force shots, rebounded well while creating second chance opportunities and was the workhorse that Denver needed. He finished with 17 points and 13 rebounds.
Denver’s big men was consistent and provided balance for the Nuggets. When they are playing like this, they are a tough team to beat.
Bad – Rough starts
For a team that traded away most of their major assets and were playing with their best player, this is a matchup one would assume the Nuggets would run away with. That was not the case as the Mavericks went into the second quarter with a 30-25 lead over Denver.
Dallas started the game off with energy on both ends of the floor and also got some major contributions for the bench unit as well. Dwight Powell came off of the bench and led all scorers in the first quarter with eight points. Devin Harris also ran the unit and got into Denver interior which opened things up for Dallas.
The Mavericks hit open shots and also finished at the rim which was a big reason as to why they led in the first quarter. They went through a run, sustained a run and then turned it up defensively as the Nuggets only shot 28.6 percent from the floor.
In the second quarter it was more of a back and forth approach, but the Mavericks kept up the effort and hung around with Denver. The Nuggets did however win the frame 27-21 and went into the half with a 52-51 lead despite the slow start, but their first quarter woes continue to be an issue and is an area that the Nuggets will have to focus on as they finish off the season and prepare for the playoffs.
Ugly – No minutes to go around
With the Nuggets getting back to being fully healthy, it was known that head coach Michael Malone would have some tough decisions to make regarding his rotation.
Denver has not been fully healthy this season which has allowed other players to get more reps and grow, but now that guys are returning from injuries, there will be productive players who lose their playing time.
In Friday’s game, the player that lost out on minutes was Torrey Craig.
With Trey Lyles out due to a left hamstring strain there were a few rotational minutes to be filled. Malone elected to go with Juancho Hernangomez with those minutes who finished the night with zero points, one rebound and an assist in nine minutes of action. Although Hernangomez did not play well in the first half, he got another crack at it in the second half and Craig was a healthy scratch on the night.
Craig has been a pleasant surprise for Denver as he turned his two-way contract into a roster spot. He has been a consistent contributor for Denver and was even in the starting lineup for more than half of the season.
Malone has been a coach that goes with a game-by-game approach and he will mix it up moving forward due to matchups, but it was surprising to see Craig not get in the game at all. Craig is one of Denver’s best defenders and will surely be used in games where Malone sees fit for defensive purposes, but on Friday Craig got the short end of the stick.