Seven takeaways from Denver’s 45-point thrashing of Atlanta

Denver Nuggets guard Monte Morris (11) reacts after scoring in the second half against the Atlanta Hawks at the Pepsi Center.
Nov 15, 2018; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Nuggets guard Monte Morris (11) reacts after scoring in the second half against the Atlanta Hawks at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets got back into the win column Thursday night with a 138-93 beatdown of the Atlanta Hawks.

With the win, Denver snapped a four-game losing streak and pushed their record to 10-5 on the season. The Nuggets still sit in third in the Western Conference, but are now just a game and a half behind the Golden State Warriors for first place.

There’s plenty to dissect when you score 138 points and lead for all 48 minutes, so lets dive into tonight’s seven takeaways.

Denver gets a much-needed victory and finds their offense in the process

Coming into the game, Denver had lost four straight games and was desperately looking for a win, which they got in a big way against the Hawks. The Nuggets led for all 48 minutes and never gave any doubt as to who was going to win the basketball game. The offense getting back on track was a big reason to that as Denver shot efficient not just from the field, but from three-point range as well.

Denver shot 29-for-47 from the field in the first half and 8-for-14 from behind the three-point line. Those numbers only improved in the second half as Denver finished the game 53-for-94 from the field and 13-for-31 from three-point range. The Nuggets’ shooting numbers were key to them scoring the most points they’ve scored all season and really set the tone offensively for their upcoming three-game road trip.

The beauty of Denver’s offense was how guys like Gary Harris, Jamal Murray, and Trey Lyles were all able to get into a rhythm offensively. Coming into the game, all three of those players were shooting under 30 percent from distance, which is a percentage that went up for all three after Thursday. The three combined to shoot 6-for-10 from three and all seemed to find a groove with their outside shot. That’s a great sign as Harris, Murray, and Lyles all need to continue and play well offensively if they want the offense as a whole to have continued success moving forward.

The Nuggets commit thievery with a dozen steals

Coming into Thursday’s game, the Nuggets were averaging 8.6 steals per game, which was good for eighth in the NBA. That went up after Denver set the tone on the defensive end of the court with eight steals in the first half. Paul Millsap and Nikola Jokic contributed to seven of those, which helped lead to some easy buckets on the offensive end of the floor.

The Nuggets added four more steals in the second half to finish the game with 12 as Millsap and Jokic each finished with four a piece. With the double-digit steals, Denver is now averaging 8.9 per game on the season and move into fifth in the NBA in that category.

Denver’s 12 steals against the Hawks also helped their defensive rating, which now sits at 103 and puts them third in the NBA, only trailing the Boston Celtics and Oklahoma City Thunder. Yes, they were playing the Hawks, but Denver certainly imposed their will on the defensive end of the floor and got back to what was working so well early in the season.

Monte Morris makes his first career startย 

Nuggets coach Michael Malone altered the starting lineup against the Hawks by inserting Morris at the point guard spot over Jamal Murray. Coming into the game, Murray had started the first 14 games of the season for Denver, but was put on the bench in favor of Morris against Atlanta. Nuggets head coach Michael Malone explained that Murray did not start because of a “small violation” of team rules, and stated that Murray would be back in the starting lineup Saturday night against the New Orleans Pelicans.

Even if it was just for one game, Morris certainly made the most off his opportunity as the Nuggets began the game on a 13-0 run. It was 16-4 when Murray subbed in at 5:57 in the first, and even though Morris did not record any stats in his opening six minutes, he certainly set the tone for Denver’s offense.

The Nuggets ended the first quarter with 35 points on nine assists, and Morris was a big part of that. In his 14 first-half minutes, Morris had just two points and one assists, but had zero turnovers and certainly got the Nuggets’ offense going once again. Denver had 20 assists on 29 made baskets in the first half, and Morris was key to the Nuggets’ offensive efficiency.

That effectiveness carried into the second half as Morris finished the night with eight points on 4-for-9 shooting from the field to go along with two rebounds and two assists. Morris also had a +23 and had a solid game even when he was not lighting up the stat sheet. That just shows the consistency Morris plays with, and how the Nuggets can continue to rely on him night-in and night-out.

Juancho Hernangomez plays his best game of theย seasonย 

After a tough performance in the Nuggets last game against the Houston Rockets, Hernangomez bounced back in a big way Thursday night with arguably his best game of the season. Hernnagomez was active all night long on both ends of the floor, whether it was hitting a three-pointer, collecting an offensive rebound, or playing phenomenal defense – Hernangomez did it all.

Hernangomez finished the night with a season-high 25 points and posted one of his best stat lines dating back to his rookie season. Not only did Hernangomez score the ball, but he did it efficiently, shooting 9-for-12 from the field to go along with 2-for-5 from behind the three-point line. Hernangomez also had nine rebounds, with four of those coming offensively, helping contribute to Denver’s 14 second-chance points.

Those stats were not even the best from Hernangomez’s night, though, as he also posted a game high +46. That number is a testament to how well Hernangomez played offensively, but also on the defensive end of the floor, as well. After struggling to defend in the Rockets game, it definitely was a solid defensive bounce-back performance for Hernangomez, who’s finally settling in with the Nuggets’ starting five.

Nikola Jokic has a good night on both ends of the courtย 

In a game the Nuggets desperately needed to win, Jokic had a very solid night and played a key role in the Nuggets starting five having so much success. In his 25 minutes, Jokic chipped in 12 points on 5-for-11 shooting from the field, while also chipping in nine rebounds and seven assists. Those assist totals could have been much higher for Jokic if a few more open shots were made, but nonetheless it looked like Jokic’s magic act was officially back.

That pass was just one of the many great passes Jokic made on the night en route to the Nuggets’ big victory. Another win for Jokic was the fact he was able to sit out the final quarter and a half with the Nuggets holding an enormous lead. After subbing out midway through the third quarter, Jokic was able to watch the rest of the game from the bench and get some much-needed rest before the team embarks on a tough three-game road trip.

Jokic has now posted double-figures scoring totals in four straight games and has really bounced back from his one-shot performance against the Memphis Grizzlies just last week. The Nuggets’ offense truly looked the best it’s been all season against the Hawks, and Jokic’s play was a big reason why. If the Nuggets’ big man continues to play at this high of a level moving forward, its only going to help the Nuggets’ offense stay consistent moving forward.

Jamal Murray plays well off the benchย 

Murray came off the bench for Denver for the first time all season, and played extremely well in the process. Pouring in 14 points on 4-for-10 shooting from the field, Murray shot 3-for-6 from behind the three-point line and upped his percentage from distance to 29.6 on the season. Murray also drilled his 300th trey of his career, which is a huge milestone for the Nuggets’ third-year guard.

Even though coach Malone said that Murray will be in the starting lineup when the Nuggets face New Orleans on Saturday night, he certainly played well with the bench unit against Atlanta. Its encouraging to see Murray get back into a rhythm, and it’ll be interesting to see if that happens again when he plays with the starts against the Pelicans on Saturday.

Nuggets slow down Hawks rookie sensation Trae Youngย 

Coming into the game, if there was one player the Nuggets really had to stop on the Hawks, it was Young. As the Hawks’ leading scorer at 17.5 points per game, Young had a very quiet night against the Hawks, finishing with just six points on 2-for-11 shooting from the field.

From the opening whistle, Morris never allowed Young to get comfortable and made him work for everything he got. Young didn’t score his first point of the night until midway through the second quarter, courtesy of two free-throws, and did not make his first field goal until the second half. As the Hawks’ main offensive weapon, the Nuggets did a good job shutting Young down and not letting him get into any type of a rhythm.

Morris wasn’t the only one who had success defending Young, though, as Murray also made a pretty good play on the Hawks’ rookie in the fourth quarter.

That block summarized the night that Young had and just how smothering the Nuggets’ guards played him defensively. For a player as deadly as Young, the Nuggets did a really good job taking him out of the game, which was a big reason why Denver was able to pick up the win.

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