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Five nuggets for every 3-pointer Juancho Hernangomez drilled in a 110-91 rout of the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday.
1. In Wednesday’s narrow win over the Chicago Bulls, Nuggets coach Michael Malone pared down his rotation to nine guys. Sweet-shooting Spanish forward Juancho Hernangomez was the odd man out. Hernangomez got a DNP-CD as his team pulled out an overtime win. Less than 24 hours later, Hernangomez was back in the rotation, and from what we saw in his 23-point performance against the Cavaliers, he might not be leaving it anytime soon.
Hernangomez drilled five 3s, made 6 of 7 free throws, grabbed four rebounds and blocked two shots. He hit three 3s in the second quarter alone. Those treys fueled a turnaround.
Denver trailed Cleveland by 12 points after a lifeless first quarter. But with Hernangomez leading the way, the Nuggets outscored the Cavaliers 35-15 in the second quarter and never looked back. The Nuggets scored 95 points across the last three quarters. Overall, they shot 48.2 percent from the field and a season-high 38.5 percent from 3. Hernangomez’s sweet stroke and energy jolted Denver’s offense to life. His swat in the game’s waning seconds was an appropriate ending.
2. One of the best parts about this Nuggets team, which improved to 7-1 after a 2-0 Midwest road trip: No one cares who gets the credit. “Right now, it’s not about me,” Hernangomez said on Altitude TV in his post-game interview. “It’s not about one player. It’s about the team. We made the goal to make (the) playoffs. Every game counts.”
Nikola Jokic, who was quiet Thursday with four points, five rebounds and six assists, is as unassuming as star players get. Paul Millsap is a four-time All-Star who last season publicly passed the reigns to the Nuggets’ offense to Jokic, his ultra-talented but deferential front court partner, because he realized it was in the team’s best interest. Will Barton showed up at Summer League and gave a social media shoutout to Slovenian draft-and-stash wing Vlatko Cancar.
The culture has been completely transformed in the last three years. Credit Tim Connelly and Arturas Karnisovas for identifying the right type of players, credit Malone for developing them and credit the players for putting in the work.
3. Don’t look now: Millsap is finding his groove on the offensive end. For the third game in a row, he shot the ball well. Millsap scored 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting in Cleveland. He connected on a step-back 3, threw down a driving dunk, got his midrange game going and even mixed in a Eurostep.
Millsap scored 18 points on 6-for-12 shooting vs. New Orleans and 19 points on 8-of-13 shooting in Chicago. He likely would’ve set another season high if the Nuggets hadn’t been so far ahead of the Cavaliers. He only played 21 minutes and watched the entire fourth quarter from the bench.
4. The Nuggets are a vastly improved defensive team. They’re allowing 102.0 points per 100 possessions, the fourth-best mark in the league. Opponents no longer slice through them like a warm stick of butter. The Nuggets make plays in the passing lanes now.
They are averaging 9.6 steals per game — up from 7.6 per game in 2017-18. Denver got its hands on eight of them Thursday. Monte Morris collected two, and six other Denver players each had one. Denver’s improved ability to turn opponents over is a result of stickier fingers, more active hands and better overall effort.
By the way: Mason Plumlee is the team’s steals per-36 minutes leader with 2.6. He’s been excellent this season, struggles at the free throw line and all.
5. Malik Beasley is this team’s best dunker. Apologies to Gary Harris, who’s had some ferocious dunks in his own right. Beasley’s bunnies are just a little better.
Beasley has special athleticism, even in a league where everyone is a ridiculous athlete. He’s started to figure out how to harness it. He’s only scratching the surface, though.