It’s been a really bad month for the Denver Nuggets — and January is barely half over. Denver has a 4-5 record this month, but the losses have been painful and the wins have been pitiful.
This week included two examples of ‘bad wins’. A 105-102 win against the Dallas Mavericks, the second worst team in the Western Conference, was nearly a disaster. The Nuggets had an 85-59 lead in the third quarter before they lost their composure. They also had a ‘bad win’ against the Memphis Grizzlies earlier in the week.
It’s a toss-up when considering which loss has been the worst during this stretch. Two losses against teams battling for the worst record in the NBA — the Atlanta Hawks and Sacramento Kings — were both pretty bad. The Hawks loss was a home game. The Kings loss came after an easy win over the Utah Jazz the previous night. However, the Nuggets’ effort made you think that they were playing uphill at Red Rocks Amphitheater against Sacramento.
Going into this season, I felt like the Nuggets needed to make the playoffs to avoid making major offseason changes. There was a point in December where that looked like too low of a goal. Expectations changed too soon. The Nuggets are currently out of a playoff spot with an uphill battle the rest of the season.
Let’s go through the list of potential excuses for the team.
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Originally posted on Mile High Sports
Is it Nikola Jokic’s fault? He is supposed to be the superstar, but he’s been inconsistent. Some of that may be injury—he hasn’t been the same player since coming back from being hurt in December. Still, we’ve seen flashes of the old Jokic. I’m just not sure he’s being used in the right way.
Most teams in the league try to cater to their star players’ strengths. The Nuggets are trying to force Jokic to make up for weaknesses the rest of the team has. That problem was on display in the Nuggets’ loss the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday. Jokic found himself playing power forward as a way to adapt the lineup to center Mason Plumlee. Jokic struggled in this role. On the previous night, he thrived at center.
It begs the question: What are the Nuggets doing?
The Nuggets cannot afford to waste a season squandering player development in favor of fitting a system. If that means moving Murray off the ball and playing Plumlee less, they need to make those sacrifices.
This team has clearly lost all of its momentum from their mid-December run; Denver often seems tired, which is a strange problem for a team with a lot of depth and youth.
As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, coach Michael Malone is still trying to figure out how to trust his team, but part of that has to be him putting them in the best situations. If the team is not conditioned for the regular season in January, how can they battle for a playoff spot in March? The problems now may be mental and physical, but the coaching staff needs to help them adapt.
The Nuggets had their last ‘good win’ on December 23rd, when they beat Golden State on the road in a low-scoring affair. At the time, it felt like the Nuggets might be ready to elevate themselves to compete with the second-tier of Western Conference playoff teams.
It’s been a disaster since then. Perhaps the Nuggets felt like they had arrived on the scene after that game. January has proven that this Nuggets’ caravan might not even be on the right road.