The Denver Nuggets played the Boston Celtics earlier this week and felt as if they had the game won, but Denver missed the game-winner on a play that had many questioning if Nuggets’ head coach Michael Malone should have called a timeout.
Then there was an open shot that fell in and out of the rim on the very next night against the San Antonio Spurs.
Thankfully, the third time was the charm as Denver finally got a last-second shot to fall — this time against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
So, while this week has brought its shares of positives, there has also been quite a bit of negative. So I give you, the good, the bad, and the ugly.
The Good – Impressive Win on the National Stage
This week, those who’ve been watching Nuggets’ basketball have been gifted three incredible games by the Basketball Gods; three-straight games in which the outcome came down to the final shot. After two Will Barton misses on the final possessions of games against the Celtics and Spurs, Gary Harris’ buzzer-beating walk-off three-pointer to beat the scorching hot Oklahoma City Thunder was needed to remind a young team that they’re able to pull off late-game heroics of this variety.
Denver was up against the new big-three of All-Star Paul George, the reigning Most Valuable Player Russell Westbrook and former Nuggets’ great Carmelo Anthony. Denver donned their new “City” alternate uniforms for their late-night TNT game and, on the national stage, the Nuggets came and played their hearts out. For the Thunder, George finished with 43 points while Westbrook had 20 points and 21 assists for an incredible double-double and was only a rebound short of a triple-double. Both players did everything in their power to win the game as they cut into a 20-point lead and were 1.4 seconds away from taking it to overtime.
And then this happened.
With the world watching, Denver played arguably their best overall game of the year and the stats back it up. Nikola Jokic finished with his third triple-double of the season as he had 29 points, 14 assists, and 13 rebounds. Jamal Murray came alive in the 2nd quarter including a highlight play for the ages when he crossed over Steven Adams and drilled the three-pointer over him. Murray finished with 33 points and five assists and Harris, who was the man of the hour, had capped off his night with 25 points including the game winner.
All was well in the Mile High City — at least for a night.
The Bad – Tough Schedule
Denver currently sits at 27-25 on the season and in eighth place in a strange Western Conference this year. They are a game ahead of the Los Angeles Clippers, who just traded away Blake Griffin to the Detroit Pistons, and a game behind the New Orleans Pelicans, who just lost All-Star Demarcus Cousins for the remainder of the year. Now is the time for Denver to make their move and finally get back into the postseason, but it won’t come easy as they’re in the midst of one of their toughest stretch of the season.
After playing the Boston Celtics, San Antonio Spurs, then Oklahoma City Thunder all in one week, one would assume that it gets easier. That is not the case for the Nuggets.
Their next three games are against Golden State on Saturday, Charlotte Hornets on Monday and the Houston Rockets on Friday. Denver only plays one team that didn’t make the postseason last year before the All-Star break, so going into the break over .500 at this point would be a positive.
“We just have to take it one game at a time,” has been the motto for Barton. “If we string along a couple of good games, we’ll be in good shape come the break.”
The Ugly – Fear the Unknown
Although there is no such thing as moral victories in the NBA, and the Nuggets haven’t got the results that they’ve wanted, one thing that you can’t say Denver has been lacking — which Malone was critical of them of before this stretch — is effort.
In the middle of their toughest stretch of the season, the Nuggets have played some inspired basketball. Yes, the late game execution has been an issue, but they’ve brought everything they’ve had to each game they’ve played, which is something you have not always been able to say. In fact, taking a look back at the month of January, the games that stand out most is their humiliating losses to the Sacramento Kings, Atlanta Hawks, and Phoenix Suns.
The reason why is because these are some of the worst teams in the league and Denver just flat-out did not show up to play. On the flip side of that, they beat Portland and played the Warriors, Clippers, Celtics, and Spurs very close and if a shot fell here or there, Denver had the opportunity to win those games.
Here lies the issue.
Denver is one of those teams where each night you must go in thinking, ‘which team will I get tonight?’ There is either the team that disappointedly fell to bottom dwellers around the league or played up to their competition and competed at the highest level. Denver must find ways to sustain this level of play that they’ve played with into the month of February. Their biggest issue is the inconsistency where it seems they’re not fully engaged or on the same page. Then there are games like Thursday night where every player that saw court time contributed. With consistency, Denver could surprise a lot of teams and find themselves back to the playoffs.