The Denver Nuggets escaped their first game of the season with a 107-102 victory in New Orleans. Anytime a team can open up the season with an in-conference road win, it’s a very good thing. Here is a look at the good, the bad and the questionable from Denver’s first victory of the season.
Kenneth Faried accepted and flourished in his new role coming off the bench. He was a difference maker on defense and in every hustle category. Denver closed out the win mostly because of Faried’s defense. If Michael Malone decides to keep Faried as a weapon on the bench, it adds a completely different element to Denver’s roster.
Jusuf Nurkic got the start and looked like a different player in the first half. Nurkic has great rebounding, scoring and passing skills. He can improve a bit on defense, but he is young and his upside is at an All-Star level. This is a player that Malone can use in the starting lineup or off the bench.
The return of Wilson Chandler was nice to see. Chandler was not afraid to take big shots when it counted most at the end of the game. Also, when the Nuggets go small, Chandler fits in nicely with scorers Danilo Gallinari and Will Barton.
Emmanuel Mudiay looked like he had some rust on him from an ankle injury that kept him out the last week of the preseason. Mudiay was just two of eight for 11 points and had only three assists. More importantly, Mudiay accounted for six of Denver’s 24 turnovers. For the Nuggets to get to the playoffs this season, their young point guard has to be better and more consistent.
The Nuggets must also learn how to close out games. Denver had New Orleans dead in the water, even with Anthony Davis going for 50 points. Down the stretch, the Nuggets missed shots, were sloppy with the ball and playing “not to lose” basketball. There’s no way that the Pelicans should have been within single digits in this game.
Malone has many players to choose from, but it’s difficult to understand his rotation. It seemed that Malone went away from what was successful in the first half. The Nuggets went small down the stretch and the team really struggled to hang on.
Malone stated afterward that he liked Faried on Davis; however, that line-up in the fourth seemed way too small for what Denver could have put on the floor. Denver did not need to play both Jokic and Nurkic, but one of them would have helped Faried on the boards. Malone has to experiment with what he has, but Jokic getting only 21 minutes is puzzling.
Next up: The Portland Trailblazers come to Pepsi Center for Denver’s home opener on Saturday. Dikembe Mutombo gets his number retired, and Denver fans will hope the Nuggets have a more productive home opener than last season, when they were beaten handily by the Minnesota Timberwolves.