The Denver Nuggets appear to have shaken off their early-season woes. They are finally picking up steam. This is the type of play that we anticipated following their 2020 playoff run, so the league ought to take notice again.

Before we really get into the Nuggets, though, let’s quickly discuss how unusually competitive the 2020-21 NBA season is. Even if we take all the COVID-19 protocols out of the equation, we can still say that the season has been outside the norm. The standings haven’t been this close after a month in – it’s happening on both conferences too. Usually, the teams’ win-loss card are now fairly grouped into tiers.

We’re only 16-20 games in and the top teams (Jazz, Lakers, Clippers, and Sixers) already have four, five, and six losses. The clear bottom-feeders, meanwhile, only have three names on the list (Wizards, Pistons, and Timberwolves).

The 11-7 Nuggets are somewhere below the West leaders, along with virtually every other team. But, as mentioned, things are now pointing up for them. All-Star Nikola Jokic and company have won five straight, and nine of their last 12, which is the pace that many expected.

Let’s look at some of the key numbers inside their five-game winning streak:

  • The last four have been on the road
  • Six or more Nuggets have scored in double digits in four of the five games
  • The Nuggets defense had 11 or more steals in three of the five games
  • Opponents have only shot 32.7% from three
  • The average winning margin is 12.2 points (119 PPG to 106.8 PPG)
  • No team has grabbed double-digit offensive rebounds (the league average is 10 ORB)
  • They are first in rebounding and third in net rating.

So, what changed?

Aside from dusting off the hangover from their magical postseason run, there are two changes to be considered:

Nikola Jokic’s workload

The Joker averaged a monster triple-double (25 PPG, 11.4 RPG, 10.3 RPG) through his first 13 games, which is good Fantasy Basketball-wise, but not exactly overall.

Over the last five outings, it seems like the coaching staff has eased up Jokic’s workload. While he’s still getting a ton of touches in the high post and the paint (as he should), he’s no longer doing much of the facilitating duties, which may have erased some of the offense’s predictability. He’s still delivering 25-plus points and 10-plus boards a night, but he’s now down to under six assists per contest as the scheme now allows other Nuggets to create their own shots without Jokic.

Michael Porter Jr.’s return

The Nuggets’ prized youngster recently returned from a 10-game absence due to the safety protocols, and he’s making up for lost time. He’s posting 20.3 points on 56.3% shooting in just 29.3 minutes of play in his last three games.

Porter’s return is a valuable spark for Denver. He’s the third scorer behind Jokic and Jamal Murray (who has been inconsistent), and with his build, style of play, and talent, he occasionally becomes the primary scorer.

It was evident in the win against the Dallas Mavericks earlier this week, where he scored a game-high 30 points with six three pointers, including the dagger with under a minute left. We’ll see more of that if he stays healthy, and if he does, there’s no telling how good the Nuggets can be.

The Nuggets will be back in action tomorrow, Saturday, at 9:30 AM, Manila time. They’ll visit the San Antonio Spurs for the last stop in their five-game road trip.

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