Denver Nuggets season teetering on the edge as they drop fourth straight
The Denver Nuggets’ defense was as empty as the middle of a glazed donut from a Tim Horton’s being scarfed down somewhere in Kitchener.
Toronto humiliated the Nuggets by dropping 49 points in the first quarter en route to a 125-110 win. The near 50-burger in just 12 minutes of action was the most points the Nuggets have allowed in any quarter this year. The horrible start was made possible by a completely inept effort by Denver on their way to a season-worst fourth-straight loss.
“I think at some point pride comes into play, ” head coach Michael Malone said. “You don’t want to get embarrassed. For me, it was just constantly encouraging guys to chip away. It’s a long game.”
Down 19 after one, the game appeared to be headed for a humiliating blowout. However, the Nuggets regained balance.
“A lot of things can happen,” Malone when asked about what he said to the beat-down Nuggs. “Let’s not give up, don’t let go of the rope, all the cliches you can come up with we used tonight. That’s what’s frustrating because, in the last three games, one quarter has been the deciding factor.”
Michael Porter Jr. kept the Nuggets in the game, despite an unwarranted fourth-quarter benching in Denver’s previous game against Brooklyn. MPJ went for 23 on the night including shooting 5-of-9 from beyond the arc.
Denver hung tough, cutting it to 16 at the half then six after three, featuring a 26-7 run, and got the lead all the way down to three in the fourth.
The Raptors were able to dig back in showing their own brand of Canadian resilience stretching the lead back to as many at 17. Fred VanVleet was spectacular, scoring 36 points and nailing eight threes.
The Great White North had nothing on the chill in the air surrounding Jamal Murray’s jump shot. The Ontario native was flat-out terrible, missing 13 shots from the field including a sad seven misses from three-point land. It was a disappointing effort in front of his friends and family but his presence on the court was confusing.
On Sunday, in a disappointing loss to the Nets, Murray also struggled. He ended up on the bench for the fourth quarter with an ice bag on his knee. The game came down to the wire while Murray was a spectator. With MPJ also riding the pine, the game turned into a repeat of last season where Nikola Jokic had to carry the load.
Murray was questionable at the beginning of the day. It would certainly be understandable if he was still having occasional issues with his surgically repaired knee. What didn’t make sense is why he wouldn’t play in the fourth on Sunday but play for a team-high 40 minutes on Tuesday.
Was Murray hurt on Sunday? Has Murray been hurt?
The Blue Arrow hasn’t been the same player he was before the All-Star Break, where he sat several games with knee soreness.
It’s reasonable to ask if Murray was so out of commission in the closing minutes of Sunday, how in the world was he able to play so much hours later? Understandably, he would want to show out in front of friends and family, but it was clear, going a team-worst minus 20, that practically any player on the team would’ve been a better option. In fact, Reggie Jackson, who was acquired for just such a scenario, was a DNP coach’s decision.
Afterward, the locker room took on a Festivus airing of the grievances like quality as an assortment of vets addressed the current four-game losing skid.
“I’m not gonna get into some of the stuff that got brought up,” said Malone. “That’s for the locker room and for our guys. But when you have guys that have been around the block, we know what we are capable of. The Chicago game was a nightmare that still keeps me up at night. The other three games, those are games where this time of the year getting away from our identity is the challenging thing.”
While the teased comeback was real, the Nuggets couldn’t escape Malone coaching like Bud Black in September.
“The only way you get through times like this is by working through it, staying together, and working through it,” Malone said. “Nobody is going to feel sorry for themselves. It’s never gonna happen in a locker room and a team I’m involved with.”
The Nuggets lead in the western conference now seems tenuous. Jokic’s MV3 campaign will surely be questioned. Detroit is literally the worst team in the league with a pathetic record of 16-54. If the Nuggets can’t slump bust against the Pistons on Thursday, this brilliant season may be all for naught.