The Denver Nuggets cruised to an easy 122-109 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Monday night, a game without either LeBron James or Anthony Davis. The Nuggets brought just enough intensity to keep the Lakers at arm’s length, and there was borderline garbage time for much of the fourth quarter.

Jamal Murray set a new season high with 34 points, making five three-pointers en route to his highest volume scoring output of the season. He turned up the intensity against Dennis Schroder, who guarded him aggressively all night. Murray helped hold Schroder to 3-of-13 on the other end.

Nikola Jokić had himself a perfect triple-double, scoring 14 points, grabbing 11 rebounds, and dishing 16 assists. He attempted just five field goals and made all five. The game has never looked as easy for Jokić to navigate as it has this season, and tonight was just another example.

The Nuggets improved to 27-13 on the season, 17-3 at home. With one of the best home records in the league, the Nuggets are capitalizing on their altitude advantage. They had 21 fast break points tonight, outplaying the Lakers at their own game without any stars to lead them.

Here are my primary takeaways from the Nuggets matchup with the Lakers on Monday night:

It’s never been easier for Nikola Jokić

Whether he entered the game with a setup mentality or always has it, Nikola Jokić is dropping dimes at an incredible rate lately. 16 assists underscores just how good Jokić’s feeds were.

The Nuggets starters, especially Murray, were feeding off of those passes and taking the easy shots that were always there. Jokić had 11 of those assists in the first half alone, and though the starters got away from that style in the third quarter, it’s always there whenever they need a bucket.

Outside of the passing, Jokić was a perfect 5-of-5 from the field, 1-of-1 from three, and 3-of-3 from the free throw line. He finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds, adding to the 16 assists to form another triple-double. It looked fairly easy for him too.

“He’s just different man,” Bruce Brown summarized. “A different breed.”

Aggressive Jamal Murray is the best Jamal Murray

Murray attempted 29 shots tonight against the Lakers, his most of the season by a significant margin. It wasn’t his most efficient shooting performance, but he still managed 34 points, a season high. He made 5-of-9 from three-point range, emphasizing the need to consistently get up shots from the perimeter.

“It’s just a body language, an energy, an attack mindset, a swagger, whatever you want to call it,” Malone shared of Murray’s aggressive scoring outburst. “You can see when he has it.”

There are times when Murray looks to set others up and look to score second. Often, that has coincided with some potential trepidation as a scorer. He’s never “afraid” but the times when he’s most confident also coincide with his most ambitious shot attempts. Sometimes, those don’t go in. Other times, they do, and it sets the building on fire as a result.

The Nuggets need the version of Murray that’s capable of going for 40 points again. That might not happen this year as Murray continues to work his way back, but I’m confident it’s still available. The reason? Getting up 29 shots is hard. There will be times when more of those shots go in than they did tonight, and on those nights, there will almost certainly be a lot of smiles and declarations that Jamal is officially back.

The Nuggets have the best starting unit in the NBA

Every Nuggets starter was in the positive again tonight. It’s been a pretty great trend, and that often happens when the unit is playing as well as it is.

With Jokić in his bag and Murray getting his aggressiveness back, Michael Porter Jr. Aaron Gordon, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope have never had it easier. When operating around the primary machine, role players have to find ways to stay engaged and ready to contribute. Jokić often makes that a straightforward process, running DHOs for MPJ and KCP, post-up duck-ins for Gordon and MPJ, and finding cuts for Gordon and KCP. All are capable of second side actions as well, meaning Jokić and Murray have ample space on the front side to work their magic too.

Defensively, the Nuggets starting unit also finds ways to dominate, sporting a 104.9 defensive rating in 301 minutes. The league leading Cleveland Cavaliers sport a 109.0 defensive rating themselves, highlighting just how successful the starting minutes have been overall. Part of the reason for that is Michael Porter Jr.’s defensive improvements, of which Malone made mention pregame:

The Nuggets are finding out just how potent their starters can be, and it’s really stood out in their latest home stand. The game is easy for them.

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