To start out the new year, The Denver Nuggets were one of the few teams that had bragging rights about not sustaining a three-game losing streak this season, yet, the Nuggets found a way to lose to the Sacramento Kings, Golden State Warriors, and Atlanta Hawks in succession.
Sitting at 21-20 on the season, the Nuggets find themselves in unfamiliar territory with no signs of finding solutions to their problems. While there have been very few positive things to look at in Denver’s last three games, there is still plenty to discuss. So, without further ado, here is the good, the bad, and the ugly of the Nuggets’ three-game losing streak.
The Good – Nikola Jokic’s triple-double
In the National Basketball Association, there are no such things as moral victories, but, if you want to measure yourself against the best, you must show up against the upper-echelon teams and compete. That is exactly what the Nuggets did when they faced off against the Warriors on Monday. Yes, the defending champions were without Finals-MVP Kevin Durant, but they still had Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, and Stephen Curry, who’s been on a tear since coming back from his injury that kept him sidelined for quite some time.
Despite losing 124-114, the Nuggets fought and kept it close throughout the entirety of the game. Denver had five players score in double-digits and, most importantly, the first triple-double of the season for Nikola Jokic. Jokic finished with 22 points, 11 assists, and 12 rebounds but it was the timing of the triple-double is what’s most exciting. Not only was it against the defending champ — and the team currently with the best record in the NBA — but not even 24 hours had passed since Jokic had a discussion with head coach Michael Malone.
Malone had a one-on-one discussion with the Serbian big man in his hotel room regarding mounting pressure Jokic has been dealing with and how he can get back to playing with the same joy that fans across the league loved to see.
Jokic did just that and put together one of his best games of the season as he showcased the skills that we have grown accustomed to. Now, it is time to see if Jokic’s triple-double was an anomaly or if his performance against Golden State was a sign of things to come.
The Bad – Malone takes blame for loss to the Hawks
Following what could have been the most disappointing loss of the season — when Denver was defeated 97-110 to the Atlanta Hawks, losers of four of the last five games prior to playing Denver on Wednesday and also the team with the worst record in the NBA — Malone said it’s his fault and took the blame for Denver’s recent losses.
“At the end of the day, I put this loss on me,” Malone said. “Obviously, I’m not doing my job to get this team ready to play. Whether it’s the Philadelphia game without Joel Embiid, whether it’s at Sacramento or tonight, we come out thinking we can just show up.”
Malone continued to elaborate on where his team has struggled also spoke on the state of the Nuggets including where they sit in terms of being a playoff team.
“Tough, tough loss. Obviously, we have to bounce back,” Malone explained. “We’re going to stop using the word playoffs for a while. We’re not a playoff team. The team that you’ve seen as of late — playoffs should not be in our vocabulary. Just worry and focus on beating one team at a time. So, our whole focus now is to beat Memphis on Friday night.”
Although Malone was critical of his team, leading scorer Gary Harris said there are still things to be positive about when he was asked about Malone saying that the term ‘playoffs’ should not be in the Nuggets’ collective vocabulary.
“Look, look, look, we had a bad game but we’re 21-20,” Harris exclaimed. “It could be a lot worse.”
With the way the Nuggets have played in recent times, there are a few things to be frustrated about such as energy and execution. It is normal for a coach to be upset about their team’s uninspired play. It is also important to remember that Harris is also correct; the Nuggets are above .500 and will be getting their defensive anchor and all-star power forward Paul Millsap back somewhat. They’re in seventh place in the Western Conference playoff picture and — if they string along a few good games — they could easily find themselves in fifth place. Things could be better, but things could also be a lot worse.
The Ugly – Three losses in a row
With a humdrum performance against the Sacramento Kings, a hard-fought loss against the Warriors, and then a dreary showing at home against the Atlanta Hawks, the Nuggets now finds themselves on their first three-game skid of the season.
By taking a look at each of their last three losses, Malone’s frustrations seem to be justified. Each loss is almost a new story.
Denver lost to the Kings and gave up 106 points to a team that currently sits at 13-25 on the season. They were without their starting point guard in George Hill and their veteran power forward Zach Randolph as well. Denver somehow still allowed seven players to score in double figures as they fell to the lowly Kings.
The next game was where many thought the optics would change going forward. The Nuggets have played well against the Warriors in recent years and the hope was that they would be able to put together a strong performance again the reigning NBA champions. While the Warriors were without Finals MVP Kevin Durant the Nuggets still dug-deep in Oakland to make things very difficult for the Warriors. Jokic had his best game of the year — and first triple-double of 2018 — although it didn’t result in a win. At least the effort was there.
Suddenly, Denver reverted back to their old ways of playing down to their competition in their loss to Atlanta on Wednesday night within the friendly confines of the Pepsi Center in downtown Denver. The Nuggets shot an abysmal 9-37 from behind the three-point arc including Jokic going 0-of-8 from deep.
A three-game skid is uncharted territory for the Nuggets this season and things need to change immediately. Denver needs to get back to playing inspired basketball just like they started the season with. Looking at the next seven games for the Nuggets, they will only face the San Antonio Spurs and Portland Trail Blazers as teams that could make the playoffs if the season. After the Atlanta loss, Malone took the blame for the team’s performance as of late and said the team will get back to the basics. Expect to see some changes to the rotation as he searches for defense and energy.