The Denver Nuggets, in one of the weirdest games of the season so far, lost 111-102 to the Los Angeles Clippers.

Jamal Murray returned to the floor for his first extended minutes in a while, and the Nuggets appeared to be rolling in the first quarter. Michael Porter Jr. was making everything, and the Nuggets outscored the Clippers 36-21 in the opening frame while shooting 8-of-10 from three-point range.

Things were looking good. Unfortunately, Nikola Jokic suddenly forgot how to shoot, and he kept shooting, and shooting, and shooting some more anyway. Jokic finished the game attempting an absurd 32 shots, making just 9-of-32 and attempting just two free throws the entire contest. Jokic was as aggressive shooting the basketball as he’s ever been, but the results just weren’t there. He finished the game with 22 points, 15 rebounds, and 10 assists, accumulating triple-double numbers but not in a manner that helped Denver win at the end.

To put into perspective how poor of a shooting night this was, it was only the ninth time in Jokic’s career of 617 regular season games in which he shot below 30% from the field while attempting at least 10 shots. By comparison, Joel Embiid has done so 18 times in 411 career games. The Nuggets know how abnormal this is and certainly won’t panic. Jokic will be far better the next time he plays.

And yet, Jokic finished the game a +3 in his 37 minutes, despite the poor shooting. The Nuggets lost the other 11 minutes by 12 points. When the bench entered the game late in the first quarter and then throughout the contest, the minutes just weren’t good enough. Reggie Jackson did his best to keep the team afloat in those moments, and Peyton Watson’s defense on Paul George and others continued to impress. There just wasn’t enough cohesion from that group though, and the Nuggets hemorrhaged points in the second unit due to bad offense and runouts for the Clippers in transition.

The Nuggets have gone to DeAndre Jordan multiple times in a row at center with the intention of getting more defensive rebounds and improving the pick and roll game. There have certainly been some marginal improvements there, but the last couple of games have shown some holes in the strategy. Daniel Theis and Russell Westbrook combined to grab nine offensive rebounds tonight while Jordan grabbed just two defensive rebounds, and the Nuggets veteran center was just 2-of-6 from the field tonight, all of the attempts and tips directly at the rim. There are other improvements to be had throughout the rotation, but backup center continues to be a question mark, whether it’s Jordan or Zeke Nnaji.

Jamal Murray made his return to the court tonight and had a solid game, scoring 23 points and dishing six assists in his 29 minutes. Murray was targeted defensively by the Clippers late in the game, specifically by Kawhi Leonard. Murray held up reasonably well in those moments and looked fairly athletic on the court, adding a steal and a block through some hustle plays defensively. The shooting efficiency (23 points on 18 field goal attempts) was merely passable though, and Murray will have to do a better job hitting outside shots (2-of-7 from three) and getting to the free throw line (1-of-1) in future games. Particularly with the bench, Murray needs to be a scoring leader out there in lineups featuring Jordan, Christian Braun, Julian Strawther, and Peyton Watson.

 Finally, Michael Porter Jr. deserves a ton of credit for his shooting performance tonight, scoring 18 points on 7-of-8 from the field and shooting 4-of-5 from three-point range. Porter also added nine rebounds and a block, showing that his performance wasn’t one dimensional in any way, shape, or form. Unfortunately, the ball just never found him in the second and fourth quarters. Jokic and the Nuggets were determined to run two-man game actions with either Murray or Jackson, leaving Porter to mull around in the corner for minutes on end.

That just can’t happen, especially when Porter has played his role so excellently in the last few weeks. It has to be a mandate to keep him involved offensively, because he’s now averaging 39.4% from three-point range on the season and is statistically one of the most efficient mid-range shooters too. He can’t be limited to eight shots in a game when Jokic goes 9-of-32. That just can’t be Denver’s offensive process, because it takes away from one of the most dangerous parts of Denver’s starting lineup, their outside shooting.

The Nuggets will recover from this one, but LA Nightlife is back to being undefeated.

Final Rotations