The Denver Nuggets put up a heckuva effort against the Phoenix Suns on Thursday night but ultimately lost 119-115.

The Nuggets decided to rest every starter in this game after clinching the first seed in the Western Conference the night before due to a loss by the Memphis Grizzlies. As a result, tonight was a bench showcase against Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, Chris Paul, and the Suns. They started and played all of their stars major minutes despite being locked into the fourth seed in the West.

Bruce Brown and the Nuggets hung around for awhile, with Brown putting up a career high 31 points. DeAndre Jordan, Reggie Jackson, and Peyton Watson each made an impact in the starting unit. Christian Braun probably outplayed Devin Booker too. If it weren’t for seven made three-pointers by Paul and the Suns going 17-of-36 from the three-point line as a team, the Nuggets may have stolen this game.

Still, the Suns made plays that the Nuggets couldn’t make down the stretch, and the better team separated at the end. It took the Suns stars 45 minutes to separate from the Nuggets reserves though, and the Nuggets really pushed them.

Here are my takeaways from the Nuggets final matchup with the Suns in the regular season on Thursday night:

Nuggets M.A.S.H. unit brings the hustle

With every Nuggets starter sitting out Thursday’s game, this matchup became an opportunity for the second unit to prove its effectiveness. The Nuggets didn’t go with their usual bench though. They instead started Reggie Jackson, Bruce Brown, Christian Braun, Peyton Watson, and DeAndre Jordan. That group struggled to score in the halfcourt, but it allowed for Jackson to accumulate reps running the show. He did fairly well too, scoring 20 points and dishing out six assists compared to two turnovers.

The identity of the unit was built on defense though, and it showcased some good play from Denver’s wing trio. Brown, Braun, and Watson all had some incredibly fun moments on both ends. There were several rebounds and steals taken the distance in transition, with the Nuggets pushing the pace at every opportunity. There were hustle plays made on the offensive glass, great contests all over the floor defensively, and some generally great effort.

It’s always a question what level of effort a team will give when there’s nothing to play for in the standings. The Nuggets dispelled that notion early on though, making plays left and right while pushing the Suns main starters throughout the evening.

Bruce Brown and Christian Braun are ready for the playoffs

It was great to see the Nuggets primary rotation guys that played tonight excel as much as they did. Bruce Brown finished the game with a career high 31 points on 11-of-18 from the field. He got to the free throw line too, going 9-of-9 and staying aggressive every chance he could. His defense on Devin Booker was of course good, but stepping up as the first option is something he hasn’t often had to do, and he did well.

Christian Braun also made several impressive plays. His steal and transition layup when he was gliding through the air was a really impressive sequence. He also hit a step back three over Devin Booker with the shot clock winding down. His defense was also stellar, offering great contests against Booker, Durant, Paul, and others. Braun finished with 15 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals.

There are obviously plenty of rotation questions for Denver, but the two guys that likely have the safest route to playoff minutes are Brown and Braun. Their perimeter defense and adaptability to different situations have made them good options most every night. They will both need to step up if the Nuggets want to win a championship.

The Nuggets may have more rotation options than we thought

As it turns out, the Nuggets bench may have some optionality heading into the postseason. There may not be any other rotation player guaranteed to play every night outside of the starters, Brown, and Braun, but it was interesting to see different players step up for the Nuggets.

Reggie Jackson hasn’t featured prominently in awhile, but he played well against the Suns with 20 points and six assists while starting for 30 minutes. His ability to run pick and roll and hit jumpers off the dribble helped Denver stay attached tonight, and it might be an option for them in a playoff series sooner rather than later. The Nuggets will be too small on the perimeter if he’s out there with Murray and Brown, but what if Michael Porter Jr. or Aaron Gordon staggers instead?

Jeff Green also had a solid night as a scorer with 14 points and three three-pointers. He’s struggled with his outside shot for most of the season, but if he were to hit those shots, his switch defense and transition play could be really helpful.

Peyton Watson, the newest addition to Denver’s potential rotation pool, wasn’t as sharp tonight as in the previous three games he’s played. Still, his length, athleticism, defense, and transition skills have popped off the screen. He could change a quarter in a playoff game in the right situation.

Zeke Nnaji, Vlatko Čančar, and DeAndre Jordan each had their moments as well. Nnaji might be the most plug-and-play option at backup center in the playoffs, but there’s reason to believe any of the three could play in a pinch. Well, more so Nnaji and Čančar than Jordan.

Whatever the case, it appears the Nuggets have more in the tank than at first glance. None of the options listed may be an every night option, but they could each help out in the right situation at the right moment.

Final Rotations