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Torrey Craig’s swat led to Malik Beasley’s slam. In the second quarter of Tuesday’s preseason game against the Los Angeles Clippers, the Denver wings made athletic plays that served as bookends of an impressive transition highlight that came in a 38-point second quarter.
The Nuggets fell to the Clippers 109-103, and even though they lost, Denver’s bench unit impressed once again.
Michael Malone mimicked a hockey coach with his substitution patterns in the first half. He played the Nuggets’ Jamal Murray-Gary Harris-Will Barton-Paul Millsap-Nikola Jokic starting five for the entire first quarter. That group, which Malone described as “disjointed” earlier this week, looked better than it did Friday against Perth, but Denver still trailed 30-26 after one.
Malone then turned the game over to his bench mob. None of the Nuggets’ starters saw the floor after the first quarter. Monte Morris, Beasley, Craig, Trey Lyles and Mason Plumlee came on in relief, and for a quarter they lit the scoreboard up. Denver outscored L.A. 38-31 in the second quarter. Trey Lyles scored 12 of his team-high 15 points in the period. The fourth-year forward had a nice all-around game, also hauling in 10 rebounds and five assists in 24 minutes.
Denver’s bench, a weakness last season, has been a strength through four preseason games. Morris, who went for 14 assists and six assists Tuesday, has proved more than capable at backup point guard in Isaiah Thomas’ absence. Beasley (12 points, four rebounds, three assists) looks far less frantic on the floor than he did a year ago. Plumlee (nine points on 4-for-7 shooting) is moving around well after offseason surgery to repair a core injury.
The biggest question marks about this Nuggets team with only one more preseason game remaining have to do with their starting unit: When will they start producing the offensive fireworks so many expect?
Nikola Jokic has gotten off to a slow start in the preseason, and he made just one field goal against the Clippers. Clippers center Boban Marjanovic won their matchup, scoring 14 points in 15 minutes.
The Nuggets still have one more opportunity to work out the kinks Friday against the Bulls before the real games start. Their bench unit looks ready. Their starters, who figure to play heavy minutes in Chicago, still have a ways to go.