NUGGETS SHORT IN LOSS TO T’WOLVES
Four starters sidelined with injuries in lopsided defeat
While no team ever wants to lose, Sunday’s defeat was one the Nuggets could tolerate.
Nikola Jokic (hamstring), Jamal Murray (knee management), Aaron Gordon (ankle) and Kentavious Caldwell-pope (ankle) didn’t even travel, let alone play, as the Nuggets fell, 128-98, at the Timberwolves.
Though the injuries were all legitimate, the team’s decision, in part, had a lot to do with the fact that only 22 hours separated Saturday’s game from Sunday’s contest. Not to mention, Denver, now 37-17, will host the Timberwolves on Tuesday at home.
Rather than risk any injuries to their core players, the Nuggets played numerous reserves. The talent deficiency was apparent with 21 turnovers and 72 Minnesota points in the paint.
The result didn’t much matter to Nuggets coach Michael Malone, who was laughing with reserve guard Ish Smith late in the fourth quarter as Minnesota salted away the win. But within the loss, there were several interesting developments. Here’s what mattered.
Where’s the offense? Michael Porter Jr. paced the team with 22 points on 16 shots but was only 2 for 10 from 3-point range. As deadly a scorer as he is, Porter’s value rises exponentially when paired with other shooters and creators, such as Jokic and Murray. Even still, Porter’s ability to score with a defender in his face is always a reminder of the rare combination he has with his size and shooting. Porter’s defensive engagement was excellent. Before the game got out of hand, he had a handful of strong defensive contests that showed consistency in his defensive approach.
Rookie Christian Braun scored a career-high 19 points and had five rebounds. Braun’s case to play meaningful minutes down the stretch only got stronger. Whether it was his defense on Anthony Edwards, his confident 3-point shooting, or his impressive transition finishes, Braun continued his trend of playing more like a veteran. His gamesmanship is a huge asset for the No. 1 seed Nuggets
Backup PG: Bruce Brown brings numerous essential qualities to the Nuggets in versatility, toughness, and the ability to play multiple positions. But when thrust into a starting point guard role, that spotlight
shines a bit brighter. Two of Brown’s passes landed in the stands, though he did register nine points and six assists in the first half. Without Murray or Bones Hyland available, it’s readily apparent when Denver lacks creators.
Depending on what happens with Hyland by Thursday’s trade deadline, there’s the possibility Brown could remain Denver’s backup point guard heading into the playoffs. That prospect will be made significantly easier when he’s surrounded by other rotation players, but Sunday’s game made it hard to highlight Brown’s best attributes.
Speaking of Bones: Hyland was in Minnesota for Sunday’s game but didn’t play for the third consecutive game. It’s a tricky situation and a sensitive one for Hyland and the Nuggets. If a trade materializes before Thursday, they can’t afford for Hyland to get hurt, which explains why he hasn’t been playing of late.
Both Murray and Malone were asked about Hyland in the wake of the win over Atlanta on Saturday night.
“He’s doing his best,” Murray said. “Me and him are cool, we don’t have no problems. Just trying to keep him in good spirits and know that his time’s coming.”
Malone was just as empathetic, recognizing the need to address the situation while also being diplomatic.
“It’s a real sensitive area for everyone involved,” Malone said. “… Just trying to give him some space, but also let him know, yes, this is a business, but we also care about you. … I put myself in his situation, and it’s not easy.”