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Jamal Murray's 46-point night was special, but the Nuggets' best basketball could be ahead of them

Christian Clark Avatar
December 30, 2018

Paul Millsap returned Saturday after missing eight games with a fractured big toe. Millsap came on at the 3:42 mark in the first quarter. By that point, his 21-year-old teammate was cooking. Jamal Murray, who rolled his ankle less than 24 hours earlier against the Spurs, didn’t look the least bit limited as he provided the offensive firepower in a 122-118 Nuggets’ win.

Murray hit nine 3-pointers on his way to 46 points. The Nuggets needed all of it. They led by as many as 25, but their advantage got sliced to three late in the game. Murray’s free throws with 1:34 to go pushed the lead back to five, and Denver hung on, though the result was closer than it should’ve been.

“Honestly, we probably did everything you could do wrong down the stretch of a close game,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said on Altitude TV. “But to get the win says a lot about our team. Jamal had a special night.”

After a slow start to the season, Murray is showing signs of rounding into form. His 3-point percentage dipped below 30 percent after going 1 for 8 from deep Wednesday. It’s now back up to 33 percent after shooting a combined 13 of 18 from long range in weekend wins over the Spurs and Suns. He sunk 16 of 24 shots overall in  Phoenix, mixing in mid-range makes and nifty drives to the hoop with all the deep balls.

“We’re the number one seed in the West. That’s our goal right now,” Murray said. “Everybody is moving the ball. Everybody is playing unselfish, and my shot is dropping. Everybody tells me once my shot drops it’s going to be hard to stop us. The team kept feeding me. Everybody kept finding each other. I was able to find that rhythm.”

Murray finished just two points off his career high of 48, which he posted earlier this season against the Boston Celtics. He wasn’t just a scorer Saturday either. He grabbed six rebounds and doled out eight assists. There were times earlier this season when Murray and Nikola Jokic didn’t look like they were on the same page. That’s no longer the case. The two-man game between Denver’s sharpshooting point guard and playmaking center has been on point lately.

The Suns, apparently taking cues from the Spurs, tried to double Jokic on the first possession of the game. Jokic made a gorgeous cross-court pass to Murray in the corner as they made Phoenix pay.

An encouraging sign: Murray and Jokic have found their rhythm in the pick and roll. Jokic is so good at finishing inside with his arsenal of floaters and post moves. If teams shade over too much to stop him, Murray has an open lane. And when the opposing big man steps up, Murray has done a great job lately of finding Jokic on the move.

Jokic had another excellent all-around game with 23 points, eight rebounds and nine assists. The Nuggets went to him in the post when the game tightened up late, and he delivered. More than anyone, Jokic is responsible for the Nuggets chugging along despite playing much of December without three starters. The Nuggets went 8-4 in the final month of 2018 — an impressive mark considering how banged up they were.

Malik Beasley, who drilled five 3s and chipped in 15 points Saturday, and Juancho Hernangomez, who contributed 10 points and nine rebounds in Phoenix, were instrumental in helping Denver weather injury storms as well.

“I’m going to have some very tough decisions to make in about a week or so when we get a healthy roster,” Malone acknowledged. “Torrey, Malik, Juancho — everyone has played at such a high level. And most importantly, we’ve won.”

Millsap is back. Soon, Will Barton and Gary Harris will be, too. The Nuggets are the top team in the West, and we haven’t even seen what they look like at full strength. We could get to watch something special in 2019 if you add them back into the mix and assume Murray continues to perk up. Jokic has gone to another level; he plays defense now, and he’s more assertive. Monte Morris is solid as a rock. Beasley and Hernangomez provide great depth on the wings.

The Nuggets have a chance to make some noise once they finally get whole.

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