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Denver Nuggets Put On Another Show In Ball Arena

Brendan Vogt Avatar
January 18, 2023

Nikola Jokić – A+

The best player in the world is leveling up again. Jokić posted a 36-point triple-double on 14 shots against the Portland Trail Blazers. He missed just once from the field. He missed just once from the free-throw line. None of it looked hard for him.

It’s the latest in a long line of dominant performances at home. Jokić and the Nuggets are in cruise control and cruising at 100MPH. The opportunistic defense is picking and choosing their spots — a fallible yet practical approach considering how difficult it is to stop them from scoring. Jokić and the revamped perimeter defense turned the switch on at halftime again Tuesday night, forcing the ball out of Damian Lillard’s hands after he sliced Denver up for two quarters. Lillard had 30 points on 8 of 12 shooting in less than 17 minutes. He didn’t enjoy that same success in the second half. Jokić deflected any credit for the successful adjustments, rightfully highlighting how the guards stepped up. Still, acting Head Coach David Adelman was willing to hand some out all the same.

Denver’s offense can turn an inch of separation into a mile before you’ve blinked. Lillard dropped 44 points, yet Portland’s starters got crushed, which is becoming the story of this matchup. Neither team can stop the other’s best player, but Portland is struggling to stop Denver at all. That, of course, can be attributed to Jokić, as almost any observation about this team should be. It’s a feature of his greatness that the offense should thrive in a healthy, sustainable manner. Every game, he sets out to thrive as not the team’s best player but an essential part of an ecosystem.

Jamal Murray – B

Murray opened the game guarding Lillard. That could have gone better. He and the Nuggets got torched before the halftime adjustments. Murray played a fine game on the other end, however. His seven assists to zero turnovers would make for a welcome contribution from any starting point guard, and he scored the first nine points of the game for the Nuggets. Denver, and it would be more accurate to say Murray landed the first blow. They were able to weather the storm from there.

Michael Porter Jr. – A-

Porter played a great game alongside Jokić and Murray. Almost none of his production felt outside of the offense’s identity, and there was virtually nothing Portland could do to stop him. Matching up with MPJ, Aaron Gordon, and Nikola Jokić is no fun puzzle. While Porter doesn’t play like a big, he most certainly is. You’re sacrificing height somewhere, which matters in the case of contesting his three-point shot. But Porter also got it working from the mid-post, an area he hoped to improve this season. It’s an excellent way for him to utilize his size and maximize the mismatch potential. Of course, when I sought validation of that opinion from the back-to-back MVP, he broke it down in simpler terms for the post-game attendees.

“Whenever he (shoots), I think it’s going in.”

Fair enough.

Aaron Gordon – B

On a night when he struggled from the field, AG knocked down all his free throws, dished out eight assists, and grabbed seven boards. There is no typical AG contribution anymore. He’s become amorphous, filling in the cracks in any given game. It’s a joy to watch a player most known for his athleticism develop as such a versatile weapon for one of the best teams in basketball.

When we last heard from AG before the offseason, he declared his goal of becoming a more intelligent player. That’s easier said than done, of course, yet all signs point towards success in that endeavor. Gordon channeled his inner Jokić finding open teammates Tuesday night. Including Jokić himself, as the two continue to wreak havoc with their burgeoning connection.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope – B-

If Murray couldn’t get the job done, and Jokić denied any credit for the improved defense, someone has to get the flowers. KCP earned that proverbial praise and the actual DPOG chain after taking the Lillard assignment in the second half. After the game, Adelman reminded us it’s not just about the pick-and-roll coverage but guarding Lillard for the entirety of a possession. There’s so much chasing involved and a gauntlet of screens to navigate. Pope shot 2 of 9 from the field and smoked some straightforward finishes. But he redeemed himself by flashing the same skill set that enticed GM Calvin Booth to begin with.

Bruce Brown – B

Brown led all Nuggets off the bench with nearly 30 minutes played. He scored 12 points thanks to active cutting, another 3, and that high-arc floater he loves. He was Denver’s only bench player to finish with a positive +/-. I could go on, but like the denizens of my home state New Jersey, we’re all on the same page about how cool Bruce is.

Bones Hyland – D+

It was a night to forget for Bones when it came to shotmaking. Still, you can see a silver lining if you squint hard enough. Hyland made an improved effort defensively, which Malone has challenged him on when the shots aren’t falling.

Vlatko Čančar – F

It was a night to forget for Valtko as well. If you squint hard enough, you will still see zero points.

Zeke Nnaji – C+

Zeke is credited with six offensive rebounds, which is excellent. He’s credited with zero defensive rebounds, which could be better. But we saw some tenacity — a word I vow to stop abusing in the Zeke section. Eventually.

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