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Michael Malone deployed yet another different starting lineup tonight. His hand was forced as Emmanuel Mudiay (rest), Danilo Gallinari (ankle), Randy Foye (hamstring) and Darrell Arthur (knee) all sat out. Tonight Malone went with Jameer Nelson, Gary Harris, Wilson Chandler, Kenneth Faried and Joffrey Lauvergne.
Denver opened the game strong, jumping out to an 11-3 lead and forcing the Suns to take an early timeout to regroup. Joffrey Lauvergne had it going early opening the game with 7 points on 3-4 shooting, including 1-1 from 3-point land. The Nuggets finished the quarter on a 17-14 run to take a 28-17 lead into the second quarter.
In the second quarter, Denver picked up where they left off pushing their lead to 46-25 with an 18-8 run to start things. Malone went to an ultra small lineup of Erick Green, Nick Johnson, Will Barton, Mike Miller and Nikola Jokic. That unit actually played well together and continued the movement on the offensive end of ball and player. Malone has the Nuggets moving away from the ball frequently, with lots of screens in the mix and it’s helping to create open looks all over the court. Denver went into the half, winning the quarter 35-19, up 63-36 and this preseason game was over … with two quarters left to play.
Pepsi Center – Denver, CO / Oct. 16th / Preseason game No. 5
STARS OF THE GAME
1.) Kenneth Faried‘s all around game: He scored 15 points on 4-7 shooting, including 7-11 from the foul line in just over 23 minutes of action. Faried’s free throw shooting motion looks improved, if only for subtle reasons. He’s taking his time and his shooting motion just looks more fluid. On the defensive end, Kenneth more than held his own. One possession saw Markieff Morris try to body past Faried on along the right baseline, Faried stayed in front of him, Morris lost control of the ball and upon regaining control Morris was forced to give up the ball to Devin Booker. Faried switched onto Booker and bottled him up in the corner.
2.) Wilson Chandler‘s rebounding, pass deflections: The Unstoppable Juggernaut was on a mission rebounding the ball. He tallied 19 boards on the night with 16 of them coming at the defensive end. Chandler also disrupted multiple passes throughout the night by staying in front of his man and using his length to jump up and swipe at passes (knocking down three of them). He was only credited with 1 steal, but was bothersome to the movement of the ball for the Suns.
3.) Nikola Jokic‘s all around game, hands: In just 20 minutes of action, Jokic put up 19 points on 6-7 shooting, including 1-1 from 3-point range and 6-6 on free throws. He did foul out of the game, and banged knees with another player while doing so (I’m told he’s fine), but his ability to roll to the rim and finish were on full display. His soft touch and usage of the classic white square on the backboard make him reliable among the trees.
4.) Will Barton poured in 19 points off the bench and hit a key three late in the game to squash the Suns mini-run. He was 6-10 on the night from the floor, including 1-2 from deep and 6-6 from the foul line. He also grabbed 10 rebounds (three offensive). His production off the bench will be vital this season and the energy he injects into the game is very Corey Brewer-esque, but Barton has been playing with much better control and isn’t a total Brewer clone. He can finish around the rim in a variety of ways and really hangs in the air.
5.) Gary Harris has cemented himself as the team’s shooting guard, even with Foye battling injury. Harris has impressed Malone and his defensive presence and ability to attack bode very well for him. With regular minutes, he will build confidence in his shot and there is already noticeable improvement as coaches like to say, ‘He just needs to see his shot go in a few times.’ Harris finished with 16 points on 6-11 shooting, including 2-4 from deep and 2-2 at the foul line. Very excited about year two with Harris.
PLAY OF THE GAME
This one has to go to King Joffrey for finishing a pretty pick-and-roll pass from Nelson with authority above the rim.
TURNING POINT OF THE GAME
The entire first half was owned by the Nuggets as they dominated on their way to a 63-36 beatdown. The impressive part? Denver didn’t allow Phoenix to sniff any success or get into the game in any way, shape or form. It can be difficult for young teams to step on the throats of their opponents, but the Nuggets did just that tonight.
BY THE NUMBERS
With 9:27 left in the fourth quarter and the Nuggets up 84-68, Denver’s win probability was at 97.9 percent. Heck, when Denver was up 46-25 with 5:20 left in the second quarter their win probability was 91.5 percent. Things got a little scary late in the fourth with Denver up 84-75 with 8:18 left, the Nuggets win percentage dropped to 90.4 percent.
QUOTE OF THE GAME
“I think Kenneth and everybody else in that locker room has bought in,” Malone said after the game. “The results, I mean come on, we held this team to 33 percent [shooting] and they’re a high scoring team. I realize it’s just preseason, but Kenneth and everybody else has bought into: defending, rebounding, running and that’s who we want to be. And the results show the buy in and commitment that they’ve made.”
Like Malone said, it is just the preseason and we have yet to see how the Nuggets will do when their opponents are game planning for them, but the early looks have been very encouraging. Build a defensive team that likes to get out and run, but can also play in the halfcourt with motion off the ball that creates efficient shots? Nuggets fans should be looking forward to watching this team gel.
The Nuggets have just two preseason games left before the start of the regular season in Houston on Oct. 28th. They’ll be in action next on Sunday, Oct. 18th in Oklahoma City to take on the Thunder.