MINNEAPOLIS — The Denver Nuggets stumbled early, then rallied late in regulation, then could not contain Jimmy Butler in overtime of a 128-125 loss at Minnesota Wednesday night.
Here are seven takeaways from the loss:
1. It’s how you finish. Denver coach Michael Malone again went with the starting unit of Nikola Jokic and Mason Plumlee paired inside with Wilson Chandler on the wing and Gary Harris and Jamal Murray in the backcourt. But in overtime, Chandler and Plumlee were replaced by Will Barton and Trey Lyles, whom Malone called “phenomenal” off the bench. Those two combined for 35 of the Nuggets’ 67 points after halftime while also adding nine rebounds, three assists and just one turnover during that span.
2. Getting defensive. The Nuggets outscored the Timberwolves 102-93 after the first quarter, a period in which Minnesota connected on its first 3-pointers. Lyles said the game plan was to go under screens and gave the Timberwolves “kudos” for hitting shots early. But getting more physical on the ball was the obvious theme of the halftime chat. And the players clearly understand that, with this team, how they defend will often be the difference between winning and losing.
“Just play defense how we played in the second half, and we’re gonna be good,” Jokic said.
Added Lyles: “It just showed us again that once we start playing defense, we can play with anybody.”
3. Value the ball. After committing 22 turnovers for 21 points last week against Minnesota — a “reoccurring nightmare” for Malone — Denver surrendered just nine for 13 points Wednesday. That’s fewer than Jokic had by himself (10) in the Nuggets’ first loss to the Timberwolves. Jokic had two giveaways Wednesday, and the only other Nugget with more than one was Chandler (also with two).
4. Arthur’s appearance. The only way Malone extended his bench on the second night of a back-to-back was by inserting veteran forward Darrell Arthur, who played five first-half minutes and recorded one rebound. Every Nuggets starter but Plumlee played at least 30 minutes, as did Barton and Lyles. Malone said fatigue likely played into his team’s slow start, but that it later got a “second wind.”
“As the game went on, I think guys’ competitiveness kind of overran the tiredness,” Lyles said. “It showed the overall strength of our team.”
5. Quotable. Malone on the difference between the first and second halves: “They came out and smacked us in the mouth and they got off to a big start … That second half was Denver Nuggets basketball. That was defending. That was rebounding. That was running. That was attacking. And the ball moved. That was a fun, exciting team to watch, and we gave ourselves a chance.”
6. Streak snapped. The loss snapped Denver’s three-game winning streak, which matched its longest of the season. The Nuggets also have not lost more than two games in a row this season. That non-streaky play has yielded a 19-16 record to hold steady in the sixth spot in the Western Conference.
7. Twin Cities. Breaking: Minneapolis is a bit chilly in the winter. As in, negative degrees before wind chill. As in, by far the coldest weather I’ve ever experienced in my life. But I was irrationally fascinated with the Skyway, which connects multiple downtown buildings via indoor, above-ground walkways to avoid stepping outside in sub-zero temperatures. I turned left out of my hotel elevators, walked through a mall-like setup with stores and restaurants and shops, then through lobby area of the Mayo Clinic, then over a couple streets and suddenly I was at Target Center. What a brilliant invention, I thought. However, the Skyway closes at 10 p.m. That means I walked back from the game in minus-11 wind chill. It was a brutal five minutes, but now I have a story of survival.
Published at Thu, 28 Dec 2017 13:00:36 +0000