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Golden Nuggets: Death by JaVale and Lance, Millsap's shooting struggles and Morris stepping up

Christian Clark Avatar
October 26, 2018

Six nuggets for every 3-pointer the ice-cold Nuggets made in 23 tries on national TV Thursday night.

1. Death by LeBron is understandable. Inevitable, really. To see James out there dissecting Denver’s new and improved pick-and-roll defense wasn’t a surprise. The King had his first triple-double of the season (28 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists), which was fine because even in year 16, he’s still that good.

Death by JaVale and Lance is another story. McGee and Stephenson combined for 33 points, 11 rebounds, six assists and a dozen bizarre celebrations. They were instrumental in helping a shorthanded Lakers team hand the Nuggets their first loss of the season, 121-114.

Denver fell apart down the stretch. McGee and Stephenson, who scored eight a piece in the final quarter, were excellent when it mattered most. The Nuggets, who managed six points over the final 4:57 of play, were not.

2. The Nuggets got through their first four games unscathed even though they clanked 3s at an abnormally high rate. They rolled into L.A. shooting 29.8 percent on their long-range looks. Poor outside shooting finally caught up to them Thursday as they missed 17 of 23 3s and fell to 4-1.

Torrey Craig, who’s stepped in for Will Barton at starting small forward the last three games, missed both of the 3s he tried and is now 2-for-9 on the season. The Lakers sagged off of him at times, which made it difficult for Denver to manufacture decent shots. Paul Millsap also misfired on the two 3s he’s attempted. He shot 3-for-9 overall with three turnovers.

The Nuggets were one of the best 3-point shooting teams in basketball the last two seasons. They shot close to 37 percent both years. Some of their struggles are due to randomness. But some of them are to do to the fact that, suddenly, there are two players in the starting lineup who are neither scoring nor playmaking threats.

3. You can’t say enough good things about Millsap’s defense so far, and he was mostly good on that end in L.A. But offensively, the 33-year-old is operating at a level nowhere near where he was at when he made four consecutive All-Star games with the Atlanta Hawks from 2014-17.

In five games, Millsap has committed nearly twice as many turnovers (nine) as assists (five). His moves look clumsy, and his touch around the hoop has deserted him. Millsap is 11-for-26 at the rim.

Millsap’s biggest gaffe of the night: allowing Lonzo Ball to poke the ball away from him when Denver was trying to put the game away. The giveaway, one of 19 Denver committed, helped turn the tide in the Lakers’ favor.

The Nuggets already run most of their offense through Jokic. Right now, they might be better served by doing so to an even greater degree.

4. If you’re searching for a silver lining, might I suggest Denver’s bantamweight backup point guard? Monte Morris has settled in nicely the last three games. He was a plus-18 with nine points and four assists in a narrow win over the Warriors and a plus-14 with 11 points and seven assists in a beatdown of the Kings. He followed those efforts up with the best all-around game of his pro career, a 20-point, seven-assist performance under the bright national TV spotlight.

Morris is the second-best facilitator on Denver’s roster behind Jokic. He’s handed out 22 assists and committed two turnovers this season, which *checks notes* is pretty good for a guy who’s playing NBA rotation minutes for the first time in his career.

Call me crazy, but the Nuggets might have a difficult decision to make when Isaiah Thomas returns from a hip injury. If Morris keeps this up, it’s going to be hard to yank him. He’s rock solid.

5. One area of Jamal Murray’s game that needs work: handling the basketball against pressure. It’s not often you see NBA point guards get ripped 84 feet from their own hoop.

Shortly thereafter, Nuggets coach Michael Malone put Morris in, who he knew would have no trouble handling Ball’s full-court pickups. Murray has struggled at times when defenders don’t give him any airspace. (See: the regular season opener against Patrick Beverly). His handle needs tightening.

6. It’s possible this team still has some road demons to exercise. Denver won more than enough games at Pepsi Center (31-10) to make the playoffs in 2017-18. Its undoing? A 15-26 road record. The Nuggets eked out a come-from-behind win over the Clippers last week before blowing a game to their cooler older brother. So: 1-1 away from Pepsi Center.

The Nuggets will need to at least finish .500 on the road if they want to compete for home-court advantage. They return home for a date against the high-scoring New Orleans Pelicans on Monday and then get two easy road ones after that: at Chicago and at Cleveland. At least they look easy on paper.

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