Starting five: Jokic, Beasley lead Nuggets to victory over Knicks

Denver Nuggets guard Malik Beasley (25) reacts after a play in the fourth quarter against the New York Knicks at the Pepsi Center.
Jan 1, 2019; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Nuggets guard Malik Beasley (25) reacts after a play in the fourth quarter against the New York Knicks at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

After their 115-108 victory over the New York Knicks, the Denver Nuggets have now won nine-straight games at home and 14 of their last 18 games.

The Nuggets record now sits at 24-11, which places D’enver a half game ahead of the Golden State Warriors for first place in the Western Conference. It also gives Denver a 1-0 record in 2019, which is a solid start to the new year for the first place team in the West.

So, without further ado, lets dive into tonight’s five takeaways from the Nuggets victory over New York.

Nikola Jokic records his third triple-double of the season 

As Jokic goes, so does the Nuggets offense. That only continued on Tuesday night as the Nuggets offense was flying high with Jokic leading the charge. En route to his third triple-double of the season, Jokic had a positive impact on the game from the opening tip.

Jokic was constantly looking to get his teammates involved and its a big reason why he already had 10 assists with six minutes remaining in the second quarter. It was not just passing the ball though as Jokic also chipped in nine points in the first half to go along with his six rebounds.

Already on triple-double watch after the first 24 minutes of the game, all Jokic needed was a few points and rebounds to achieve it in the second half. One of those came pretty early in the third quarter as Jokic hit a lay up in the opening minutes of the period before going another onslaught of assists occurred. Already with 13 assists at the 7:50 mark of the third, Jokic was putting on an offensive show in a game where the Nuggets desperately needed it. As New York was hanging with the Nuggets for most of the night, Jokic was going to need a strong final quarter if Denver was going to walk away victorious.

Jokic would do just that as he finished the night with 19 points, 15 assists, and 14 rebounds all on an efficient 8-of-16 shooting from the field. Of Jokic’s 19 points, none were bigger than the three he hit in the closing minutes of the game to help the Nuggets stretch their lead back up to seven.

That three put the final proverbial nail in the coffin for the Knicks  and ultimately helped give the Nuggets win their ninth-straight at home. A big shot in a big moment from the Nuggets franchise player is what helped seal the deal as Jokic continues to have a tremendous season for Denver.

Malik Beasley’s confidence continues to grow

This is becoming a regular occurrence in these starting five, but how can we not include Beasley after the game he had tonight? Night in and night out, Beasley is having a major impact on the outcome of the game, and Tuesday’s performance was no different. With 19 points off the bench, Beasley provided the Nuggets with a major spark just like he has done all season. Of Beasley’s eight made shots in the win, five of them came from behind the 3-point line with most of them coming in big moments during the fourth quarter.

Coming into tonight, Beasley was averaging a career-high 9.1 points per game, while also shooting a blistering 39 percent from 3-point range. Beasley’s 3-point percentage is also a career-high. He has been one of the Nuggets best shooters from distance this season. Beasley’s improved shooting stroke has a lot to do with the incredible confidence he has played with this season.

With improved confidence comes more trust from head coach Michael Malone, which is why Beasley has had so many opportunities to showcase his talents this season. After working on his jump shot last offseason, Beasley has grown into one of the Nuggets best knock-down shooters and most confident players on the offensive end of the floor. That growth is huge for a player who has never averaged over 3.8 points per game in his first two seasons, and its a big reason why he has been a major part in the Nuggets winning basketball games this season.

Gary Harris and Paul Millsap make their much anticipated Pepsi Center return 

After missing the last 11 games with a right hip injury — Harris made his return to the lineup while Millsap played in his second game after coming back against Phoenix last Saturday. Both players were a little rusty as Millsap opened the game just 1-of-6 from the free-throw line, while Harris began the night 0-of-3 shooting from the field. Even as they struggled to get back into a rhythm offensively, both players still had a positive impact on the game; especially Millsap.

As the Nuggets got into crunch time in the third quarter, Millsap collected a number of big rebounds to provide the Nuggets some second-chance points. It also gave Millsap plenty of opportunities at the free throw line, which he improved on in the second half and ultimately finished the night 4-of-10 from the charity stripe. Millsap was constantly going to the line, but it was not just free throws that got him going offensively; especially in the fourth quarter. In the final period, Millsap was on fire from field and was a big reason why the Nuggets were able to pull away from the Knicks.

Millsap finished the game with 16 points on 6-of-13 shooting from the field to go along with his nine rebounds. In just his second game back from his toe injury, Millsap showed that he’s ready for his impact to be felt immediately.

As for Harris, he finished the night with six points, two rebounds, and two assists in his 19 minutes of action. Neither player played a ton of minutes as Millsap finished with 22, but both players still had a positive impact on the game. With Will Barton being the only Nuggets starter still out with an injury, having Millsap and Harris back gets the Nuggets that much closer to the team they started with at the beginning of the year.

Torrey Craig continues to have a positive impact on both ends of the floor 

If there is one thing Craig provides the Nuggets on a nightly basis, it is his phenomenal play on the defensive end of the floor. As great as he has been on that end of the court this season, Craig’s now providing them a little something else — offensive production. One of the big reasons why Craig’s offensive efficiency has improved is because his 3-point jumper has been falling as of late.

Even though Craig is shooting just 27 percent from three, you would not know that from his numbers recently. After tonight, Craig is shooting 14-of-34 from distance in the Nuggets last eight games. That is a 41 percent clip and it shows the work Craig has put into making the 3-point shot a major part of his game. That growth continued tonight as Craig scored eight of the Nuggets first 10 pints, with six of those coming from beyond the arc.

Craig would end up finishing the night with 13 points on an efficient 2-of-5 from three-point range. Eight games might be a small sample size, but something Craig has shown of late is the confidence to shoot the ball from three. That is something that was not there in the beginning stages of the season, but it certainly is something Craig has been doing a lot of lately.

If Craig can continue to impact the game offensively for the Nuggets, it might give him a better opportunity for more playing time once the Nuggets are completely healthy. Being able to have such a positive impact on both ends of the floor is huge for Craig and its a big reason why the Nuggets walked away with a win on Tuesday night.

Emmanuel Mudiay makes his return to Denver 

After three seasons in a Nuggets uniform, Mudiay made his return to the Pepsi Center, but this time as the opponent. In his first matchup against his former team, Mudiay finished with a solid stat line of 15 points on 7-of-20 shooting from the field to go along with nine assists and thee rebounds. A pretty good game for Mudaiy, who came into tonight averaging 14.2 points and 3.8 assists per game. The points per game is a career-high mark for Mudiay, whose really made the most of his opportunity with the Knicks.

Even when the Nuggets traded Mudiay at the trade deadline last season, it was not as if the two parties left on bad terms. The Nuggets had an emerging star at point guard in Jamal Murray and a young player in the G-League in Monte Morris, who have become focal points in the Nuggets success. The trade also allowed Mudiay to earn an increased role in New York, which he has excelled in during his time with the Knicks.

The Nuggets also thanked Mudiay with a message on the Pepsi Center video board during the midway point of the first quarter. A classy move by the Nuggets organization to thank a player who undoubtedly helped Denver get to where they are today. Even though he is not on the team anymore, it is safe to say the Nuggets youth movement started when Denver drafted Mudiay with the seventh overall pick in the 2015 NBA draft.