The Nuggets bench is igniting the fire

Jan 14, 2021; Denver, Colorado, USA; Denver Nuggets guard Monte Morris (11) controls the ball as center Isaiah Hartenstein (25) screens against Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) in the first quarter at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

We all hear the names Nikola Jokić and Jamal Murray and rightfully so. They’re one of the best duos in the NBA right now. But these past few games, that duo and the rest of the Nuggets starting unit needed a little extra spark from their bench.

In Denver’s first matchup on the road against the Phoenix Suns, Nuggets coach Mike Malone wasn’t too happy with how his starters played in the first half and credits his bench for bringing them back into the game.

“I challenged our starters,” Malone said. “I thought our starters were awful in the first half. I thought our bench came in and gave us some life and brought us back in the game.”

Monté Morris was one of those guys who stepped up big for the Nuggets giving them some extra fire power on both ends of the floor in the third quarter.

“I was just trying to stay in attack mode and trying to get some defense in the game,” Morris said. “We were able to make a run.”

Morris went off for 17 points on 6-10 shooting from the field and did so effortlessly. The intensity he brings on the floor every night earned him a 3-year, $27 million contract extension which has allowed him to play more freely.

“That was my biggest focus trying to get a deal done so I can go out there and perform at a high level and not worry about numbers and things like that,” Morris said. “I’m going out there focused with a clear head, playing for other guys with a clear head and just being the best version of me.”

Morris’ numbers have already improved from last season averaging 52 percent from the field with 12 points per game. Nuggets coach Mike Malone has been impressed with his play.

“It’s not surprising,” Malone said of Morris. “He has been incredible off the bench for us. His ability to know when to attack, know when to get off the ball and make the play for somebody else, his competitive spirit on the defensive end of the floor. Just his overall confidence right now.”

The Nuggets were able to close that game out 130-126 after a tough overtime battle with some clutch buckets from both Murray and Jokić.

In their second matchup against the Suns, it was a collective effort on the defensive end that kept the game close and a game tying off balanced three by Murray that forced an overtime. Murray finished the game with 26, 6 and 5 while the Joker put on another dominating performance with 29 and 22 but again, it was their bench that also helped in key moments.

Michael Porter Jr.’s playing making abilities have continued to improve. In one instance, Malone credits Porter driving through the lane, hitting Gary Harris on the baseline who found Murray wide open for three. Murray missed but Porter was right there for the put back.

“Michael Porter wants to be an all around player,” Malone said. “He doesn’t just want to be a scorer. He doesn’t just want to be known as that. He wants to be a complete player. He wants to be a great player.”

Porter said he isn’t here to just put up numbers if it doesn’t translate to winning. He knows his team needs him for more than just scoring and he will never settle for being a one dimensional player.

In the Nuggets next game against Dallas Mavericks, Porter followed up his 14 point and 11 rebound performance with a 30 point game on 10-18 shooting from the field and 6 of 10 from three.

Denver was shorthanded after Murray got ejected from the game so both Porter and Jamychal Green, who had 17 points and 8 rebounds, helped fill that void and they handled business.

“They have been really good for us this month,” Malone said. “When we go to our bench, obviously those guys that are able to most nights need to play well and whether that’s getting us back into a game like the first night in Phoenix, I thought our bench unit was really good in that first half, sustaining a lead whatever it might be we need those guys.”

Malone continued and said that without the game Porter played, the Nuggets would’ve lost. He expects this level of play from Porter every night whether it’s off the bench or as a starter. At the beginning of the year Porter was starting until COVID protocols had him miss almost an entire month of basketball.

“Everybody gets caught on who starts,” Malone said. “That’s such a big thing for everybody. I don’t really understand it. If you have a chance to close the game that’s more important than hearing your name before a game in an arena with no fans.”

For Porter, it doesn’t matter if he starts or comes off the bench. All the matters is getting back into the rotation and winning games.

“My whole mindset since I’ve started playing is just contributing in anyway I can,” Porter said. “Coming back into the rotation after being out so long that was my mindset. We’ve been playing pretty good and I just wanted to come in and help the team in anyway I could. Will (Barton) was playing really good at the three and I didn’t want to mess anything up so I just wanted to come in and give a spark off the bench.”

What separates the good teams from the great teams is a solid bench and the Nuggets have been taking advantage of their depth.

The Nuggets beat Dallas 117-113 and are 9-3 in their last 12 games. They have two more games on the road before wrapping up a 5-game road trip. They’re currently 4th in the Western Conference standings with a 10-7 record.

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