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Eight nuggets for each of Brook Lopez’s 3-point makes in a 121-114 Nuggets loss to the Bucks on Sunday at Pepsi Center.
1. Michael Malone called it “a comedy of errors.” With 5:36 to go, the Nuggets were in excellent position to ensure their two-game skid didn’t keep snowballing. Thanks to their bench mob, the Nuggets turned an 11-point deficit into a four-point lead. The finish line was in sight, but Denver couldn’t make it there without tripping over itself.
Over the final five minutes, the Nuggets turned it over four times, shot 2-for-8 from the field and scored five points. Any lingering hopes they had were stamped out when Gary Harris fouled down three points with 30 seconds remaining and Denver turned it over on the inbounds pass following the free throws.
“We weren’t supposed to foul in that situation,” Malone said. “I’m not sure why Gary did. It was a one-possession game. Thirty seconds on the clock. That was just one of those areas where it’s just not being disciplined and not understanding the time and the score in the situation.”
2. Mental mistakes were a theme. Running Bucks center Brook Lopez off the 3-point line was a point of emphasis coming into Sunday’s game. Less than 24 hours earlier, Lopez connected on six 3s against the Los Angeles Clippers. He followed it up by going 8 for 13 on 3-point tries against Denver.
“You know what’s funny? They played yesterday afternoon,” Malone said. “I have no idea how many of our guys watched the game. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were only a handful that watched it. If they would’ve watched that game, they would’ve seen Brook Lopez go 6 of 12 yesterday. He’s having a great season shooting the ball. Some of our guys were probably surprised he hit eight 3s tonight. I don’t get that. This is your job. This is your livelihood. This is your profession. Study your opponent. Know who you’re playing.”
Give Lopez credit: He hit a couple outside shots with a high degree of difficulty. Sinking bombs from the hash mark is probably not a sustainable strategy longterm.
“We knew he was going to shoot it, but I didn’t think he was going to do that, man,” Harris said. “Hats off to him. He was on fire today. We’ve got to be better not letting him feel so comfortable.”
Lopez is 39 for 93 on 3s this season. It’s wild to think he attempted 41 3s during his first eight seasons combined.
3. The NBA’s top-rated defense didn’t hold up against the league’s second-ranked offense. The Bucks’ shooting display dropped the Nuggets from first to fourth in defensive efficiency in a matter of hours. Understandably, a lot of the post-game chatter had to do with Denver getting torched. That tends to happen when your opponent shoots 57.1 percent from the field and sinks 17 3s.
But there were positives to come from the loss, none bigger than the Nuggets getting their groove back offensively. Malone’s decision to insert Juancho Hernangomez into the starting lineup in Torrey Craig’s place provided a noticeable boost. The Nuggets didn’t have any early holes to dig out of unlike in previous games; they led 35-33 after the first quarter.
The Nuggets made a season-high 18 3s, five of which were courtesy of Paul Millsap, and they finished with 27 assists. Although they didn’t get the result they were looking for, the Nuggets’ offense looked like the Nuggets’ offense for the first time in a while — at least until the very end.
4. Nikola Jokic’s playmaking brilliance allows the Nuggets to do things different. Jokic is such a talented creator, Denver can start Jamal Murray, who’s first, second and third instincts are to shoot, at the one. The arrangement has mostly worked out for Denver, but lately Murray’s leaky handle and inability to get Jokic the ball has become an issue.
Sunday marked the third time Murray has committed more turnovers than assists in a game this season. He also struggled to stay in front of Malcolm Brogdon.
Murray is a brilliant scorer; he went for 48 against the NBA’s best defensive team less than a week ago. But he needs to impact the game in other ways as well.
5. Murray’s struggles with the finer points of point guarding stand out, in part, because his backup is so good at them. Monte Morris’ feel for the game and ability to think it is off the charts. Through 13 games, he’s handed out 50 assists to just five turnovers.
He was excellent again versus Milwaukee. He scored five points, dished out 10 assists and committed zero turnovers. He led the charge early in the fourth quarter when Denver retook control of the game. It’s hard to believe that this is the 23-year-old Morris’ first time getting consistent NBA rotation minutes. He spent most of his rookie season honing his craft in the G League. Thirteen games into year two, he’s second on Denver’s roster in total assists and sixth in total minutes.
“He’s a great player, man,” Harris said. “He’s steady. You can’t speed him up. His basketball I.Q. is super high. He always makes the right play.”
6. Here’s a question without a good answer: What do you do when Giannis Antetokounmpo is coming at you with a full head of steam?
You can pick him up early. You can stay between him and the rim. But Antetokounmpo is big, so long, so bouncy, it doesn’t even matter.
7. Jokic’s mini-malaise faded a little further into the rearview mirror. He bounced back from shooting one time in Memphis with a 37-point, 21-rebound performance against the Nets and a 20-point, six-rebound game against the Bucks. Jokic looked confident from the first whistle. That he had space to operate with Hernangomez in the starting lineup helped.
8. Denver got off to a 9-1 start before dropping three straight to Memphis, Brooklyn and Milwaukee. Denver, now 9-4, never lost more than three straight in 2017-18. Avoiding a four-game skid this year won’t be easy. The Houston Rockets might be struggling, but the Nuggets were winless against them last year.