The Denver Nuggets went into Thursday night’s nationally televised game fresh off of a loss against the Philadelphia 76ers which concluded a rough four-game east coast road trip where Denver went 1-4 with their only win coming against the New York Knicks.
Denver looked to get back on the right track at home against the Portland Trail Blazers with a chip on their shoulder.
The last time that the two teams played each other was on opening night and it was the Nuggets that were victorious. The Nuggets looked to duplicate those results and also get out of their funk with a bit more motivation –- the return of Carmelo Anthony to the Pepsi Center.
The Nuggets spoiled his return and got back to their winning ways as they put together a complete game on both ends of the floor. Denver was engaged from the beginning and leaned on their bench unit to carry the way.
With the way that Denver has played as of late, it feels appropriate to give Thursday’s game the good, great and awesome treatment.
Good – Nikola Jokic returns to form
This may not shock many people, but the Nuggets are pretty good when their best player looks like their best player.
Jokic has not been having a bad season whatsoever, but there has undoubtedly been regression on his part as he does not seem to be playing with the same joy and enthusiasm that he had just a season ago.
All of that returned against the Trail Blazers as he got himself going early on, remained aggressive throughout the night, and looked like his usual dominant self.
The flare was back as Jokic ended the game with 20 points, 11 rebounds, and six assists.
The fun passes were there, he backed down smaller defenders, and attacked whenever the opportunity presented itself.
It is no secret that when he is locked-in and playing with enthusiasm and zeal, the other players catch on and also step their games up.
The Nuggets got out and ran, shared the ball, and hit open shots.
When he is assertive, focused and having fun it becomes contagious and leads to wins. After the game Jokic made a comment about just how good this team could be.
”When we make shots, I think we can beat everybody.”
Great – Bench unit does their part
Denver got out to a comfortable lead and maintained it — despite the Trail Blazers making a push or two — and that is because of how great the second unit played.
The Nuggets know as well as any team in the league how vital it is to have a strong bench.
Denver’s second unit annihilated the Trail Blazers in Thursday’s game as they outscored Portland’s bench 46-9 and it was a full-team effort.
Head coach Michael Malone shook things up a bit as he continues to shuffle through the bench unit just looking for something to click. In Thursday’s game, he just might of gotten the most productive game from his second unit.
Torrey Craig entered the court first and joined in on the action as his individual defense on Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum limited their production and helped lead to the win.
Michael Porter Jr. is who Malone called on to begin the second and fourth quarters. The heralded 2018 first-round draft pick got himself going early on as he knocked down a couple of 3-pointers to open things up. He is still working on his spacing and where to be on the court, but the potential is clear.
With Paul Millsap a bit hobbled, Malone called on Jerami Grant and he delivered. He ended up tied for a team-high 20 points, had two steals, and had his best shooting night in a Nuggets uniform as he went 5-6 from beyond the arc.
Monte Morris had a productive 11 points and seven assists while not committing a turnover. He and Grant closed out the Trail Blazers in the second half and brought life to a bench unit that has been yearning for that type of production all season long.
Awesome – Nuggets look like themselves
It was only for a night, but Denver looked as close to the team that was a game away from the Western Conference Finals as they have looked in quite some time.
The starters came out strong, the bench performed well, and the Nuggets controlled the pace all game long.
There seemed to be a different vibe at the Pepsi Center on Thursday night and it set up for a very entertaining night of basketball.
In the first half, the Nuggets were out and running, filling the lanes in transition, and knocking down what seemed like every 3-pointer that was given to them.
In the second half, it was the defense that picked up as they were able to contain the high scoring duo of Lillard and McCollum while building on the lead with their brand of basketball.
Denver will have to build off of a game where everything seemed to go right for them and ride that momentum. When looking at their upcoming schedule, there are reasons to believe that they return to form as they have a homestand against some favorable teams.