The Nuggets are setting out on their longest road trip of the season — a five-game Eastern Conference voyage that will take them through Toronto, Detroit, New York, Brooklyn, and Washington DC. It comes at a bad time. Denver has lost three-straight games for only the second time this season. DNVR Nuggets looks ahead to an important road trip and how the Nuggets can fix their bench.

Can the Nuggets’ bench be fixed?

Adam Mares: It can improve. Here’s the blueprint for figuring out what actually works and what doesn’t with the bench:

  1. Stop playing lineups with zero or one starter on the court. More blending.
  2. Stop playing Reggie Jackson as the default backup point guard option. He doesn’t need to be benched, but he should be used situationally, the same way Malone uses Thomas Bryant, Jeff Green, and Vlatko Cancar.
  3. Christian Braun needs to be a default member of the rotation and play half of his minutes with Jokic. He’s at his best when he’s guarding alongside Jokic.
  4. Try Michael Porter Jr. at power forward more. It’s his natural position. He’s also scoring off of the dribble more than he has since his sophomore season. He’s probably ready to carry more of the offensive load for non-Jokic minutes. Vlatko Cancar and Jeff Green also pair nicely with Jokic so staggering MPJ with the bench won’t destroy Jokic’s minutes.
  5. Get Jamal Murray healthy. If he gets healthy and still struggles to carry the bench, then stop staggering him.

Harrison Wind: I think there’s a chance it can be, and the first move should be going away from the three-guard lineups (Jamal Murray/Reggie Jackson/Bruce Brown), which have been a disaster this season. I’m out on Murray playing with the second unit — I think it’s too taxing for him to do that and perform with the starters — and Christian Braun has to be in the rotation. I want to see what the bench looks like with Michael Porter Jr. staggered too. It feels like it has to be the next thing the Nuggets try. Denver briefly experimented with that look at the beginning of the season but swiftly went away from it and we haven’t seen it since. At least in that scenario, the worst shot the bench would get every time down would an MPJ jumper. That’s better than what’s happening right now. We need to see Thomas Bryant more too. He’s a better player than he’s shown so far.

Brendan Vogt:

Staggering multiple starters might be the best shot. The bench looked its best when they could get stops and run. So I’m curious about a smaller look with Aaron Gordon as the backup big. He could share the court with Vlatko, Braun, KCP, and Brown. That group piques my interest. The Murray-Jackson-Brown trio just isn’t working. That said, I’m not expecting to see multiple starters with the bench until the playoffs, if at all. And Malone seems intent on keeping one of Jokić or Murray on the floor. If it’s Murray, trying a lineup without Reggie Jackson makes sense. He doesn’t need to play.

What would make this road trip a successful one?

Mares: Just get back to playing successful basketball. Good process. Show signs of being able to defend on the road and get the offense back into rhythm. A 3-2 record or better would be great but the process is going to be as important as the result.

Wind: A 3-2 record where Denver has a couple of strong defensive performances. The Nuggets let go of the rope defensively after the Grizzlies win and now look like the bottom-5 defense that they were at the beginning of the season again. They’ve got to cut out that habit on this road trip and refocus. And there will be chances to deliver strong defensive games on this trip. The Pistons are the third-worst offense in the league. The rest of the Nuggets’ upcoming opponents (Raptors, Knicks, Nets, Wizards) all rank 15th or below in offense.

Vogt: Jamal Murray returning to form. Jokić looks dialed back in, and I expect the team to rediscover its rhythm before the postseason begins. But it’d be easiest to feel confident about this group by seeing Murray performing at a high level again. Obviously, winning is important too. That top seed isn’t locked up yet. A winning record on the trip seems a reasonable goal.

Are we worried at all about the Nuggets losing the No. 1 seed?

Denver is currently 4.5 games up on Memphis (and hold the tiebreaker) and 5.5 up on Sacramento (season series is 1-1)

Mares: I’m not. For starters, if Denver loses the one seed then that means that they limped into the playoffs and likely should be concerned about other things. Secondly, the odds of either the Grizzlies or Kings making it to the Western Conference Finals are small so either team passing them in the standings still wouldn’t necessarily mean that the Nuggets would have to go on the road at any point in the West.

Wind: Not yet, but it’s not an absolute lock that they keep it like it seemed like it was a week ago. The worry is that the Nuggets only have five of their remaining 14 games at home. Those opponents are the Bucks, 76ers, Pelicans, Warriors and Kings. It’s not the easiest slate. It’s time to lock back in.

Vogt: No. The benefit of the cushion they built themselves is affording a slide like the one they’re in. The time is now to correct course, however. Denver’s worked too hard this season to sweat this out down the stretch.


Harrison Wind is the Denver Nuggets beat reporter for DNVR Nuggets. The University of Colorado alum grew up in Boulder and has covered the Nuggets for the last three seasons. You can hear him every weekday on the DNVR Nuggets podcast. Follow Harrison on Twitter - @HarrisonWind


  1. I know Malone and the Nuggets Org is a fan of Nuggets-DNVR already, but PLEASE fax/email this article/analysis to them anyway as soon as possible.
    We know that Malone will proudly roll (and rightfully so) with Murray in any fight on the Road to a Championship. But, until Murray shows better health and mobility, let Murray roll with the starters. For Denver to have a successful trek to the NBA Finals, the Circle of Trust will have to include the Nuggets next best players (MPJ and Gordon) to expand their leadership roles and impact to assist the production of the second unit through Malone’s targeted staggering of the lineups.
    Yes, reestablishing the Defense is and will be a major factor for their playoff success. Yet, the opportunity and moment this season for MPJ and Gordon to demonstrate their hard earned progression of their skill sets on a #1 seed in the playoffs can occur and help the Nuggets toward the Championship by being able to be Leaders when Jokic is not on the floor.

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