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Four nuggets for the four offensive rebounds Juancho Hernangomez hauled in in a 138-93 rout of the Atlanta Hawks.
1. Well, how about that for a curveball? About a half hour before tipoff, Nuggets coach Michael Malone threw everyone for a loop by inserting Monte Morris at starting point guard in Jamal Murray’s place. The shakeup, which was due to Murray violating an unspecified team rule, helped the Nuggets end a four-game skid.
The new-look starting lineup dominated from the opening tip. Denver scored the first 13 points of the game and led 35-23 after the first quarter. The basketball flied around instead of sticking. The Nuggets recorded season highs in points (138), field goals (53) and assists (34). In 12 minutes, Denver’s starters outscored Atlanta 37-13.
“It was great,” Malone said. “Tonight was I think the first time all season I felt like we were the Nuggets of old. We were flying around.”
It was a stark change from the “slow, stagnant, predictable basketball” Malone saw from his team during the four-game skid. The Nuggets were especially impressive in the halfcourt. They averaged 115.4 points per 100 possessions in halfcout situations, according to Cleaning the Glass, one of the best marks any team has posted all season. They took no pity on a bad Hawks team, picking them apart with ruthless efficiency.
Oh, and as for Murray: He played well off the bench. He hit three 3s and scored all 14 of his points in the first half. Malone said he plans to start Murray on Saturday when Denver kicks off a three-game road trip in New Orleans. Can Denver maintain a similar rhythm when Morris goes back to the bench?
2. Quantifying tempo isn’t easy. There’s more to it than just the number of possessions in a game. How much the ball moves from side to side and the purpose with which players cut are also part of it. It might be difficult to define, but Morris knew after the Rockets game that the Nuggets weren’t operating as crisply as they should have been. Thursday’s game was a step in the right direction in that regard.
“We just knew our backs was against the wall,” said Morris, who finished with eight point and two assists. “Losing four in a row is tough in this league. If you didn’t answer tonight, then you didn’t really care about this season. Tonight showed we really care about the season and want to get back to what we was.”
Before the game, Malone bemoaned the lack of “highlight plays” from Jokic lately. The flair, the pizzazz Jokic plays with has been noticeably absent. But Jokic brought it against Atlanta. Does this look familiar?
Jokic caused Kevin Hueter to do a 360 with this pump fake.
Jokic’s best pass of the game might have been the behind-the-backer he whipped to Hernangomez with his weak hand.
Too bad Hernangomez missed. The clip probably would’ve gone viral if he connected.
3. Hernangomez couldn’t convert Jokic’s dime, but he was excellent otherwise. He hit nine of the 12 shots he took, scored 25 points, grabbed nine rebounds, including four offensive rebounds, and was a plus-46 in 31 minutes.
The third-year Spanish forward has been Denver’s most reliable 3-point shooter 15 games in. He’s shooting 44.2 percent from deep on 3.1 attempts per game. Thursday was his sixth game with multiple 3-point makes.
“We were playing with freedom,” Hernangomez said. “Everybody played hard. Everybody played defense. After our defense, we ran. This is who we are.”
Hernangomez has the chance to be an elite shooter, and he’s an excellent fit with what the Nuggets do offensively. The challenge for him has always come on the other end of the floor. Hernangomez has had issues staying in front of smaller, quicker players. But Malone likes what he’s seen from him this season.
“The thing I’m most proud of Juancho this year is you know he’s going to play hard, but this year I think he’s making a great effort to be disciplined,” Malone said. “I think his defensive discipline right now has been terrific. Putting him in the starting lineup has been good for us.”
4. Have you ever told a lie so outlandish someone immediately called you on it? In a way, that’s what happened with Miles Plumlee when his pump fake in the second quarter was appropriately met with no reaction.
Plumlee has never attempted a 3 in six-plus NBA seasons. He barely makes more than half of his free throws. What made him think faking a 3 was ever going to get someone to bite? I almost respect such a desperate tactic. Almost.