After long anticipation, the Nuggets return to play was a complete dud, as the Heat came away with a 125-105 victory. I think I speak for all of Nuggets Nation when I say we need to throw away Saturday’s performance from our memories just like Anthony Carter threw the ball away in game one of the 2009 Western Conference Finals. Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.
In all seriousness, while today’s performance was a letdown, there is no need to panic – at least not yet. Why? Two reasons.
First, the Nuggets were down three starters. Two of those starters, Jamal Murray and Will Barton, are the best shot creators on the team and it was obvious early in the game that Denver missed both players’ ability to attack and hit tough shots. There were too many possessions where the Nuggets had to settle for contested jumpers because Monte Morris, Torrey Craig or Jerami Grant couldn’t create an open shot for themselves, let alone their teammates.
To make matters worse, the Nuggets best remaining shot creator in Michael Porter Jr. seemed to have no interest in taking anything other than contested 20-foot jumpers. Malone said as much after today’s contest stating, “I thought Michael struggled a little bit. I know Michael Porter can bring a lot more than he brought tonight.”
And with Nikola Jokic seeing occasional double-teams and Miami doing everything they could to force the ball out of his hands, he could only do so much. Additionally, spacing on offense was terrible and ball movement along with player movement off-ball was non-existent. For an NBA offense, if the aforementioned tactics are absent to go along with a lack of shot-creating, then as Malone once said, “You can take that ‘L’ on the way out.”
The Nuggets also missed Gary Harris’ presence defensively. While Craig is also known for his defensive skillset, there were too many times the smaller Miami guards were able to race past him and Morris for layups or shake the struggling Nuggets off for threes. And when the Heat weren’t doing that, they were getting fouled by Denver’s fill-in backcourt. The Nuggets guards combined for 14 of the team’s 32 fouls.
Nuggets Nation, you can also avoid the panic button because we all have to remember that this is just game one of the restart. Part of today’s struggle came not only because they were down key starters and were forced to start backups, but also because the players they do have available are most likely tired from having to play extended minutes to compensate for those who can’t play. They also are still working back into game-shape.
Additionally, there is bound to be some rust, even for a team with strong chemistry like Denver. Even when the team gets its starters back, I’d still say we should expect some period of adjustment as guys get back into the flow of things. Despite a disappointing restart, it is good to have Nuggets basketball back. Hopefully on Monday, Denver can live up to its “Elevate” slogan and raise their level of play.
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