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Sacramento sent all the King’s men to Denver, hoping to finish the season on a winning note. Despite it being fan appreciation night, the Nuggets gave their starters the night off. Against the odds, the end of the bench delivered a munder at home and a cherry on top of their regular season.
Let’s take a look at the standouts:
Bruce Brown had to be great for the Nuggets to steal one last regular season win. He obliged. He got himself to the rim with a mixture of decisive driving and deft handle, breaking guys down one on one before contorting himself for the tough finish. He dropped 21 points, grabbed six rebounds, and dished out six assists without turning the ball over. He picked up three steals as well.
Looking at the bigger picture, Brown’s recovered nicely from a brutal start to March. His work rate is restored, and his priorities are appropriate. His offense is decisive, and his defense is tenacious. That’s who Denver needs in round one.
Watson impressed again in one last regular season showing. He played downhill and attacked the rim Sunday afternoon, earning seven trips to the free-throw line. He pressed a bit too hard at times — he turned it over twice and took some ill-advised shots. The three-point shots were way off, too. But his mindset is remarkable. Some players look hungry on the floor. Watson looks insatiable. He’s not lacking in confidence to start his NBA career.
Before the game, Michael Malone mentioned Watson by name when detailing a playoff rotation. Watson isn’t locked into the eight-man group, but Malone said he’d play him if he feels he has to. Considering the source of the sentiment, it’s a powerful one. Watson’s barely played with the team, yet a veteran-inclined coach is already considering trusting him on the biggest stage.
Čaki caught one more spot start before the season concluded. He, too, stayed aggressive and got himself to the foul line. Vlatko flashed his versatile skillset with myriad contributions on both sides of the ball. He attacked the rim, stole the ball twice, kept the ball moving, and even knocked down a three, ending his personal drought. His last make was in February.
The wrist injury derailed the most promising campaign to date for Čančar. He had earned a spot in the rotation and looked ready to defend it. Alas, he’ll enter the postseason on the outside looking in yet again.
Somewhat predictably, and at least amusingly, Jackson played a terrific final game. He shot 7 of 11 from the floor and recorded four assists in 25:11 played off the bench. The Nuggets cruised with him out there. He and the makeshift second unit dominated Sacramento’s reserves.
Jackson was not named in the preliminary rotation going forward. Still, he’s been tabbed as a potential audible should the matchup call for it. “I will not hesitate to use Reggie Jackson in the playoffs,” Michael Malone told the media after the game.
White grabbed eight rebounds in 15 minutes and earned the DPOG chain for his laudable efforts. He was everywhere at once. Malone could barely contain his excitement, busting out a new nickname after the game:
“(He was) Dennis Rodman-esque. The Worm,” Malone said. “The Aussie Worm.”
White will not factor into the playoff run, but he still made the most of a significant opportunity. He played the Kings the same way he played in Summer League — he reached out and took that two-way contract with outrageous rebounding and an unwavering work rate. There might be room for him on this roster in the future.
Nnaji delivered an impressive performance in his final audition for a playoff role. He knocked down a couple of threes early, displaying confidence and comfort in the shot that’s been absent for most of the season. He began to press from there and bricked a large handful, but the early makes were encouraging. He was good around the rim, too. He rebounded and finished with little fear of resistance.
Jeff Green was the only big named in the playoff rotation. Still, Malone alluded to the possibility of playing another if necessary. Could that be Zeke? He’s played well enough when healthy.
Bryant finally did it. He played a solid game in a Nuggets uniform, nearly posting a double-double in 21:13 played. It’s been a rough go for him since the deadline. I still think he has more to offer an NBA roster than we saw during this stretch. I don’t think he’ll get to show that in the playoffs.