The Denver Nuggets dropped Saturday’s game against the Utah Jazz 118-114.

It was a surprise when Michael Malone announced that the Nuggets starters would all be playing, and perhaps it surprised the Nuggets starters too. The Jazz raced out to a 16-2 lead with the Nuggets offering very little resistance early on, and that was the story for much of the game. Denver’s intensity level was very low, and it wasn’t until the reserves checked in when the Nuggets finally found some fight.

Nikola Jokić finished the game with six points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope led all Nuggets scorers with 21 points, hitting six three-pointers. Jamal Murray put up 20 points, five assists, and four rebounds. Michael Porter Jr. and Aaron Gordon each had exactly 15 points, four rebounds, and two assists.

Here are my takeaways from Nuggets-Jazz on Saturday:

Low effort game from Denver

When the Nuggets starters were announced as playing today, I was surprised. There’s very little for the Nuggets to play for outside of maintaining chemistry and rhythm, and there’s little way to replicate playoff intensity.

Denver struggled to raise that intensity up to a reasonable level, but once they did, they played better. There were pockets of solid effort and play, but the vast majority of play, the Nuggets jogged up and down the court, closed out short on defense, and settled for outside jumpers.

To be perfectly clear, there were very few reasons for the Nuggets to try against the C-Team Utah Jazz on Saturday. The Nuggets are hoping to get to the playoffs as healthy as they possibly can, and that means not taking major risks. Still, the only times when Denver looked good were when they were intentional, and the low level of intensity limited those moments.

KCP breaks out of his slump

It was definitely nice to see Kentavious Caldwell-Pope shoot the ball well today. Of all of the things that people will complain about, this was probably the most valuable development. Caldwell-Pope scored 21 points of 7-of-12 from the field and an impressive 6-of-8 from the three-point line. He was catching the ball, rising, and firing with haste and confidence. That’s great to see.

Before today, KCP had made 13 of his last 54 three-pointers dating back to March 1st, good for 24.1%. The role playing shooting guard had just three games in a 15-game stretch in which he made multiple threes. Him being able to space the floor capably for Jokić, Murray and the rest of the Nuggets offense is imperative for Denver’s playoff success.

Peyton Watson is going to be a player

Though he didn’t hit his free throws at the end, there’s no doubt at all that Peyton Watson is going to become something for this Nuggets team in the next calendar year.

Watson entered the game in the third quarter in place of Jeff Green at backup power forward and played really, really well. His athleticism, defense, and playmaking capability really popped off the screen. In the final 17 minutes of the game, Watson racked up six points, three rebounds, four assists, and three blocks, bringing energy to a team that really needed the boost. Some of his blocks on Kris Dunn were highly impressive.

There’s no telling what will happen in these playoffs, but Watson’s played so well and Denver’s bench frontcourt rotation is so unsettled that there’s at least a possibility that Watson plays in the playoffs. That’s probably not a great sign for Denver’s short term capabilities, but it’s great for the long term picture of the franchise. Watson brings something that nobody else on the roster can bring with his dynamic and defensive focused skill set. Adding him to the Nuggets bench in a permanent capacity next season could make for a really interesting rotation with serious flexibility.

Final Rotations