The Denver Nuggets used another stingy defensive effort to capture their third consecutive win, topping Utah 107-83 Tuesday night at Pepsi Center.
Here are eight takeaways from the Nuggets’ third consecutive victory:
1. Jokic’s ejection.Nikola Jokic acknowledged he was surprised by his fourth-quarter ejection, the second time he’s been tossed from a game this season. Jokic said Jonas Jerebko bumped him multiple times while they were running side-by-side down the court, and Jokic tried to move his arm to “swim” over him and accidentally hit him. Referee Marc Davis told Nuggets coach Michael Malone that Jokic “initiated contact with Jerebko and his elbow caught him in the head.”
“I think this is just part of the game,” Jokic said. “I didn’t do it on purpose. If I’m gonna hit the guy, I’m not gonna hit the guy and everybody sees that.”
2. No room to breathe. Even though the Nuggets spent the bulk of the second half with a comfortable advantage, Malone said he was nervous until the final buzzer. That’s because the Jazz have excelled at two things that can quickly flip a game — hitting 3-pointers (entered Tuesday seventh in the NBA at 38.1 percent) and forcing Denver into turnovers (average of 20 for 29.5 points in their first two meeting).
“I was not comfortable,” Malone said. “Malik Beasley came up to me and we’re up 18 and he goes, ‘Coach, smile.’ I was like, ‘I’ll smile after the game. I want to get this win.’ I did not want to let them back in the game with turnovers and 3-point shots.”
3. Blue Arrow.Jamal Murray led Denver with 22 points, his 11th 20-point game so far this season. He scored 13 points in the first quarter, including a pull-up 3 in transition that demonstrated the confidence he had in his shot. Later, right after Jokic was ejected, Murray sank a long jumper and then flew in for a dunk to all but squash Utah’s final opportunity to make a push. Malone, however, made sure to highlight Murray’s eight rebounds, his second-highest total this season (he had 11 against Boston earlier this month). Malone has critiqued Murray’s defense as recently as before Saturday’s game at Golden State, but the 20-year-old point guard is clearly finding rhythm in his second month as a full-time NBA starting point guard.
“His consistency is a byproduct of his work ethic,” Malone said. “It’s also a byproduct of just kind of settling down and not forcing things. He’s not there yet, but we’re gonna help him get there and we believe in him 100 percent.”
4. Hello again.Trey Lyles narrowly missed a double-double with 16 points and eight rebounds in 28 minutes off the bench, by far his best performance against his former team. With the Jazz going small often, Lyles spent a fair amount of time at center, and left Tuesday ranked fourth in the NBA in 3-point field-goal percentage (45.9). Lyles said he’s feeling “really, really comfortable in our system” now that he’s about a month into consistent, meaningful playing time — and acknowledged an extra dash of motivation while facing the squad that traded him to Denver on draft night.
“You’ve got friends on the other team that you’re going against,” Lyles said. “They beat us twice already, so being able to come here and get them pretty good here, it’s a relief.”
5. More Joker. Though the Nuggets attempted to establish Jokic early in the post, he did not score until the second quarter. But then he went on an impressive four-minute stretch, following his own missed layup with a putback that turned into an old-fashioned 3-point play, launching a step-back 3 from the left wing and making a jumper despite getting fouled and adding the free throw. And when asked about the root of the Nuggets’ improved defense, he jokingly said “I think it’s me” before smirking and saying “nah, not even close.”
“The guards are doing really good job,” Jokic said. “They’re aggressive. They’re into (the player they’re guarding’s) body. They’re trying to get them out of their rhythm. They’re doing a really, really good job, and the bigs are just following that.”
6. Mudiay returns. Reserve point guard Emmanuel Mudiay was active after missing the previous four games with a sprained ankle but did not play until garbage time. Yet he made the most of his short time on the floor, converting a four-point play and sinking a second 3-pointer in the game’s final 45 seconds. Even on the front end of a back-to-back, Malone kept an eight-man rotation, with Lyles, Will Barton (36 minutes) and Torrey Craig (21 minutes) getting the meaningful minutes and Beasley and Richard Jefferson entering the game with Mudiay for the final two minutes. Kenneth Faried did not play for the fifth consecutive game.
7. Checking in. After starting 1-5 against Northwest Division opponents, the Nuggets have now won two straight against those foes. Denver has the same record as Oklahoma City at 19-15, but the Thunder holds the tiebreaker to keep the fifth spot in the West. They’re both two games back of Minnesota, the Nuggets’ Wednesday opponent. Portland is in the seventh spot and 1.5 games back of Denver at 17-16.
8. Weird night. Perhaps I was just more in tune with the stuff going on around Tuesday’s game, but a lot of funny and strange things happened. When the Jazz was being introduced, Kenny G’s music serenaded the Pepsi Center crowd. During a timeout, Nuggets mascot Rocky reached into a Santa bag and handed one of the officials a shake weight as a remix version of “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” played. The halftime entertainment was one of the largest and fastest games of Simon Says, featuring fans plucked from the crowd. During postgame locker room interviews, the fire alarm went off multiple times (nobody paid attention). Oh, and I caught one of the t-shirts from the parachute toss. At least there weren’t any marriage proposals, a staple of the last three road games.
Published at Wed, 27 Dec 2017 15:06:59 +0000