The Denver Nuggets have finished their third game of a five-game homestand that has brought some interesting nights to the Pepsi Center. Last Friday night, the Nuggets played some very ugly basketball in the Mile High City when they hosted the Phoenix Suns. That tune changed after defeating Denver’s divison-rival Portland Trail Blazers and then followed up that performance with a special night on Thursday night on Jan. 26th when the Nuggets became the first professional sports franchise in Colorado to have an official Pride Night where the decimated the New York Knicks. Without further ado, here are the good, the bad and the ugly.
The Good – Jamal Murray breaks out
When the stakes are high, Jamal Murray’s confidence is usually higher. There are very few players that are not of legal drinking age that play with the confidence that Murray plays with. He possesses the ‘I’ll get us there’ mentality, but on Monday night — against a division foe and against one of the best guards in the NBA — the 20-year-old Kentucky product became the youngest Nuggets player with at least 35 points in a game since Carmelo Anthony. Nuggets’ head coach Michael Malone was complimentary of his young guard after the victory.
“Jamal Murray is a guy that can make shots throughout the game, but he can also make big plays down the stretch,” Malone explained in his postgame presser after defeating the Trail Blazers. “It’s great to see a young, 20-year-old guard — second year in the NBA — who’s not afraid of the moment.”
One of the most impressive stats of the night was he shot 73.7 percent from the field and his last basket was this resilient go-ahead layup with only 34 seconds remaining to seal the win over Portland.
The timing of his big performance could not be more perfect as the Nuggets came into the game as losers of six of their last eight games and found themselves on the outside looking in at the playoff race. With the win they jumped back into the Western Conference playoff picture. While there are things to be down about, the play of Murray has not been one of them.
The Bad – Will Barton and Wilson Chandler
Have you seen the numbers for Wilson Chandler and Will Barton as of late? It hasn’t been pretty. For Barton, it is the efficiency that has fallen off. For Chandler, the scoring has disappeared. But Thursday night’s game against the Knicks, it was a different story for both players.
Chandler is coming off unarguably the best year of his career at 15.7 points and 6.5 rebounds a game, but somehow this year he doesn’t seem to be playing with that same type of flare. He’s now at 9.1 points and 5.4 rebounds per game, and his recent struggles have led to Malone reaching for a way to get the do-it-all wing going, which has led to Malone bringing him off of the bench.
Prior to Thursday’s game against New York, Chandler had only scored in double figures once in the past 10 games, but, in his second consecutive game off the bench, something changed offensively. He had double figures at the half and finished with 16 points on the night going 6-9 from the field.
Barton’s also a player that has been seeing a dip in his production, so a shakeup was needed. Malone took out Chandler and inserted Barton into the starting line-up against his former team on Monday when Denver took on the Trail Blazers.
The start didn’t get him going offensively as he went a season low 0-7 from the field. Despite the rough shooting line, he finished out the game strong and was a game-high +11. He followed that game up against the Knicks with 10 points as a starter. He did only go 4-10 from the field and missed a few layups he usually makes, but he did look more comfortable in a different role. He finished with seven assists while showcasing he can contribute in multiple ways until his scoring comes back. He even helped Chandler get going that night with his first points of the game.
The Ugly-Losses to bad teams
On the front end of a five-game home-stand, Denver lost to the Suns 108-100. They then beat the Trail Blazers at full strength. That phenomenon of beating good teams but losing to bad teams has been coined as ‘nugg-life’ among fans and media alike.
Denver’s problem has been failing to come out with energy to beat teams they’re supposed to beat.
“I asked them, as individuals, when you go to bed tonight and you put your head on that pillow, ask yourself if you gave everything you have,” Malone said after the loss to the Suns. “And if you didn’t, shame on you.”
Malone was clearly frustrated with the team’s performance after the Phoenix loss, within reason. They’ve dropped winnable games on the front end of the All-Star break against the Sacramento Kings, Atlanta Hawks, Los Angeles Clippers and now the Suns and it bothered Malone so much that he felt as if a change was needed. He’s shaken up the starting line-up and shifted different players into the rotation.
Sitting at 25-23 on the season with the Clippers on their tails for the eighth and final playoff spot, Denver needs to find a way to build momentum and this five-game road trip should serve as an opportunity to provide some cushion. Looking ahead, Denver has am incredibly tough schedule going forward. This is where we see what they’re made of and see if they can get over that hump.