Even though the Denver Nuggets dropped the ball (no pun intended) versus the Los Angeles Lakers, they should be content with the effort they put forth.
I am under no illusion that either team is playing up to their potential, but the fact that LA needed this win enough to play Lebron and AD deep into crunch time shows that maybe there is an opening for someone in the Western Conference to expose come playoff time. Here are my individual grades vs the LA Lakers.
Nikola Jokic: C
Nikola likely knew his team was not going to go full tilt against the Lakers and his play showed that somewhat. With 12 points and 4 assists his stat line was underwhelming. But when he was on the floor he was constantly accosted and pestered by double-teams which he maneuvered around well.
Paul Milsap: C-
I still want to see more from Paul in the bubble. Again, he was solid on defense considering he found himself matched up with Anthony Davis or LeBron James much of the time. Whatever the reason, he just doesn’t seem to be bringing his best since he has returned to action. Ideally, he is saving his bullets for the games that matter most but I’d like to see he has some gas in the tank before then and not just hope he does.
Michael Porter Jr: C
MPJ has been balling out of late but had a bit of a lull against the Lakers.. A big reason for that was because of many less minutes played (24 mins). Defensively, the Nuggets could have gotten more out of MPJ and a few times the Lakers just took the ball away from him. When you play a gritty team you have to match that aggression and Porter Jr. just seemed to shy away from that physical play.
Jamal Murray: B
Its really nice to see Jamal Murray aggressive and attacking. it is when he plays his best basketball for the Denver Nuggets. Jamal got off to a slow start offensively but it didn’t take long for him to stoke his fiery disposition. Early on he was even giving Nikola an earful for passing up on an open transition 3-pointer. Jamal played well in isolation against Danny Green and was effective finding guys and capitalizing on lax defense by LA. After getting 39 minutes against the JAzz it was probably a good idea to limit his minutes tonight and I can’t fault Mike Malone for pulling punches after playing nearly all year with a depleted roster.
Torrey Craig– D:
Torrey has had a plethora of opportunities to crack this starting rotation with Gary Harris and Will Barton out but has not capitalized. Craig will always give 100% and will find cheap buckets by outworking everyone else, but his three-pointer, though improved, has not been consistent enough. He is a great complimentary piece off the bench and I would always throw him at the team’s best scorer when he is out there, but he needs to regularly contribute more than the six points he mustered the Lakers.
Kieta Bates-Diop: C+
Bates-Diop, unlike his outing versus Portland, was effective in his time on the court. He picked his spots, cut toward the basket, and played some steady defense. He also had the assignment of covering LeBron James down the stretch and did a serviceable job. He won’t see the floor barring injury when the playoffs begin but it was nice to see him get into a little bit of a groove with the bench unit,
Mason Plumlee: B-
Mason Plumlee brought his patented “energizer bunny” intensity tonight and it was exactly what the fans needed to see. Mason has had a few tough outings in the bubble but seems like he is slowly but surely rounding back into shape. Plumlee let LeBron get the better of him in the closing minutes, but he was not afraid to play aggressively and was arguably the most physical player on the Nuggets all night. Denver will need that physicality as they move into the next phase in the bubble.
P.J. Dozier: A
P.J. had his best game in the bubble and arguably his best game of the year. He led the team in scoring with 18 and was operating with confidence and fearlessness. He was an efficient 5-7 from the floor and 2-2 from 3-point range. He even converted on the rare 4-point play when he was fouled while shooting a three early on. He made good decision after good decision with the ball and kept his eyes up. P.J. has undeniable physical talent and there is no questioning why the Nuggets front office is so high on him.
Monte Morris: B-
Monte did a lot of really nice things on the court. He was the savvy veteran-like point guard the makeshift bench unit needed to keep the ship afloat. He was able to knock down some timely 3-point shots in the second half and moved the ball up and down the court with careful precision. However, I would still like to see Monte more aggressive shooting the rock. Morris has a nice stroke and can be the difference in a game or two once the playoff games roll around and it would be nice to see him attacking on both sides of the ball when that time ultimately comes. Monte was rock solid though and we can work with that.
Bol Bol: B+
Bol Bol is exciting… period. When he hits the floor you expect good things to happen and often times they did. Bol still is lacking musculature and physicality and that showed when matched up against the deltoids of Dwight Howard. However, his length and athletic ability still are inspiring. He affected a number of shots and had a wonderfully timed block against the Lakers’ Dion Waiters. Bol will likely not see the floor once the playoffs begin but he is building hype for a 2021 rookie of the year campaign.
The Nuggets are firmly in the drivers seat to land the 3 seed in the west and I am certain they are exactly where they would like to be. With two games to go I will be curious to see how much effort they put into getting wins or if Malone will be slow-playing it until playoff time. We will see as the Nuggets take on Kahwi Leonard and Paul George of the LA Clippers next.