The Denver Nuggets are the defending NBA champions for a reason, and time and again, we’re seeing why. They are a well-oiled machine, rarely bothered by the opposition, and in full constant belief in the system, hence the recent title and the likely continuous contention.
While on the road Saturday against a likewise streaking Phoenix Suns–albeit without Devin Booker and Bradley Beal–the Nuggets marched in and collected a 119-111 win, rudely spoiling Kevin Durant’s milestone of entering the top 10 in career points.
It was a fourth-straight victory that improved their mark to 14-6 on the season, sitting at second place in the Western Conference and closely trailing the top-seeded Minnesota Timberwolves. Further, it’s a good answer to the rough, 1-4 stretch they previously had.
Though without key pieces Jamal Murray (hamstring, missed 12 of the last 13 games) and Aaron Gordon (foot, missed the last two games), the execution was quite smooth. For one, unselfishness was showcased for the nth time as they dished out 38 assists, tying a season-high and giving a good sequel to the 37 dimes they recorded just two days earlier.
As seen above, the offense featured a balanced attack, with six players in double figures and all five starters scoring 15 or more points. Such allowed Nikola Jokic to have 16 assists and just go for 21 modest points – two of those was the dagger, though.
As always, he made it look easy:
Nevertheless, two particular guys from the supporting cast deserve a shoutout: Michael Porter Jr. and Reggie Jackson.
Porter Jr.’s full line is great and all, especially the four dimes since he’s been getting meme’d heavily for lack of passing and low assist frequency, but what’s more commendable is his reliability while Murray, their no. 2 scorer and playmaking guard, is out. MPJ is delivering 19.1 points, 8.2 boards, and 3.2 three-pointers per game on 48.2% shooting over his last 13 outings, a span that started from Murray’s injury.
Jackson, on the other hand, the back-up point guard, is pulling off his reliever duties like a pro, and with great efficiency too. Though a natural scoring PG, he’s been mixing in solid floor direction and facilitation, which also helps lessen Jokic’s burden on offense. The 12-year veteran is posting 22.2 points and 6.2 assists on 66.6% shooting over his last four, one of which includes his “revenge game” on his former team, the LA Clippers.
Though not regarded as one of the strongest defenses in the league, Denver has its moments, and when it’s on, it’s on. Such is the case in the Phoenix win. After almost blowing a 17-point lead, and giving up 31 points to Jusuf Nurkic, who came in averaging just 10.0 PPG, the team defense stepped up and held Durant to an 0-of-10 shooting in the second half, right when it counted most.
Second-year swingman Peyton Watson, who is more or less replacing 2023 playoff and finals hero Bruce Brown, got the team-awarded ‘defensive chain’ for leading the efforts on KD:
What’s probably alarming for the 29 teams is the season is still relatively young, and the reigning champions are still getting into its groove. This Nuggets squad may have some bumps, but everyone knows to watch out as soon as everyone’s healthy again.