Denver Nuggets: What to watch for in final weeks of the regular season

Denver Nuggets (Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports)
Denver Nuggets (Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports) /

The Denver Nuggets are streaking now with a record of 8-2 in their past ten games. The Nuggets’ success has largely been fueled by the dominance of Nikola Jokic, the likely MVP this season. The Joker has raised the talent around him to his level and propelled them to the number three seed in the Western Conference.

Relying on new additions and young players to take over the production of Jamal Murray has been incredible to watch. There are plenty of storylines to keep your eye on as we go down the stretch towards the playoffs after a plethora of injuries to their guards.

Here are some things to watch for in the final weeks of the Denver Nuggets season.

Nuggets fans should watch the leap Michael Porter Jr has made to his game after being required to step up as the secondary scorer for the team. Porter has improved his all-around game and even raised his ability to create for others. Recently against the Clippers, Porter exploded for 25 points, seven rebounds, and a career-high five assists.

Against the elite defensive team of the LA Clippers, Porter looked comfortable and was able to still get to his shot at all three levels.

His breakout game against the Clippers could have originated from the fact that they passed on Porter twice in the 2018 NBA Draft. He seemed to be a man on a mission and was able to propel the Nuggets to a big victory over the top-four battle in the West.

In the following game, he was uncomfortable with the defense the Los Angeles Lakers threw at him, but he turned it on the second half, nearly sparking a complete comeback.

Aaron Gordon needs to look to take over more and step up as the real third option for the Nuggets. Denver needs him to initiate offense and create shots for himself in the midrange and the paint.

He’s very skilled in the post but tends to take bad shots. While he can hit these tough fadeaways, it is not as consistent as head coach Michael Malone would like.

Over the next two weeks, Nuggets fans should focus on Gordon’s shot selection and his ability to hit shots at all three levels. He has carved out a role in the Nuggets offense as the slasher and running out on the break for easy looks at the rim.

Gordon came over initially as another defensive weapon to add to their front-court depth and has not disappointed in this area. Since the Gordon trade, the Nuggets are 14-4 good for the best record in the NBA over that time.

Since the trade deadline move, they are also one of only four teams that have a top-ten offense and defensive rating with 116.8 and 109.9 respectively. His strength and agility have given the Nuggets a real weapon to guard elite forwards such as Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard, and Luka Doncic, all of which the Nuggets could see in the first or second round.

Nuggets fans should also be on the lookout for Nikola Jokic‘s MVP award. With the recent success and solidifying of the top-three seed in the West even after the devastating ACL injury to Jamal Murray the award is the Joker’s to lose.

He is averaging 26.3 points, 10.9 rebounds, and 8.5 assists per game, nearly a triple double on incredible shooting numbers. Jokic is shooting 56.4 percent overall, 41 percent from three, and 86 percent from the free throw line. His efficiency, durability, and jaw dropping playstyle and performances have been defining the hard fought season this has been for the Denver Nuggets.

Austin Rivers has struggled shooting the ball but has seemed to fit into every other aspect of the team well. Despite his late-game defensive struggle giving up a second chance opportunity under the rim, his ability to defend elite guards has been a game-changer for this team. Denver has not had as strong a defensive guard this season as they have in Austin Rivers. Facundo Campazzo is a bit undersized, and while Jamal Murray defends with great energy he is not the defensive menace Rivers can be.

The Nuggets will need Rivers to start hitting shots more consistently especially when is he fed wide-open looks from Nikola Jokic.

Most of the time, Porter and Jokic will be getting all the attention on that end, and Rivers’ ability to space the floor could be a key to their success in the playoffs. Keep your eye on Austin’s shooting percentage over these next two weeks…If Rivers begins to see success there might be a request from the fans for him to start over Campazzo.

Austin Rivers is a perfect secondary guard who can fill in the point guard role and facilitate when needed, or move without the ball and off screens to spot up from deep. His ability to attack the glass and finish in the paint is impressive for his size, over the last three years he has shot over 50 percent in the paint. The fan favorite Facu has been playing well but does not provide the same scoring potential Austin Rivers brings.

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In the playoffs, the Nuggets might lean on Rivers to go get a bucket down the stretch, something they can’t ask of Campazzo. However, with Campazzo being as skilled and cerebral as he is, he seems to be on the exact same page with Nikola Jokic every time down the court. He is clearly one of the Joker’s favorite players to play alongside and it will be interesting to watch how the two split time over the next two weeks.