Let’s face it, Sunday’s Nuggets game against the Suns was over by the end of the first quarter. Or maybe earlier. The Suns had a 40-27 lead with about two minutes left. Or maybe earlier than that, when Jokic was ruled out.
On a Monday that might feel a little bleak, it’s helpful to find some silver linings after the drubbing.
First, Nikola Jokic warmed up with the team, working up a sweat with intense drills. He shot the ball a little gingerly with his injured right hand in a light brace, but he was listed as “probable” before finally being ruled out. It would seem like there’s a chance he plays against Portland on Tuesday night, which would turn the landscape in the paint into a completely different picture.
Without Jokic against the Suns, several front court players picked up their game. This is vital because even when Jokic returns, the Nuggets still need other consistent options to take some pressure off the MVP. That includes both when he’s on the floor and taking a much-needed breather.
Coach Michael Malone has said straight-up he’s felt bad re-inserting Jokic into the lineup after only a short rest. Malone says the big man’s expression has looked like Coach, I just sat down.
To give the big man as much of a rest as possible, it appears Coach Malone is going with the veterans Jeff Green and JaMychal Green rather than relying much on youngsters Bol Bol or Zeke Nnaji.
Jeff Green has been playing significant minutes, starting since MPJ has been sidelined, but hadn’t been putting up much in the way of numbers. I’ve questioned whether he should still be starting.
Meanwhile, JaMychal Green had been struggling even more in his limited minutes, especially with outside shooting.
Sometimes players need an extended run to get off the snide, and this seems to be what happened with JaMychal. And perhaps Jeff Green found himself thrust into a new leadership role without Jokic down low.
Jeff Green led the team with 19 points, including getting to the stripe with aggressive play in the paint (6-8 on FT).
In a season-high 25 minutes, JaMychal Green had a strong all-around game with 14 points, including 2-4 from 3 point-range, 8 rebounds and 4 assists. JaMychal Green’s 3-pointer with 6:15 left in the third quarter cut the lead to single digits before the Suns proved too much.
Aaron Gordon was also going strong with 16 points and a team-high 10 rebounds before getting ejected for arguing an offensive call. In a mostly one-sided game, though, it’s actually reassuring to see a player still showing fire.
As he did in the first few games of the season, Facundo Campazzo is again putting in quality minutes and 3-point shooting that could earn more time. Now, with Bones Hyland’s ankle injury and the prospect of MPJ missing serious time, his skillset will be much needed.
The energy these veterans showed on the floor is the kind that can keep a team like the Nuggets going through injuries, but also will benefit them off the court.
In Michael Singer’s post-game recap in the Denver Post, JaMychal Green described the mood in the locker room in spite of defeat.
“Going into the next game, we had a good talk in the locker room,” JaMychal Green said. “Our heads held high.
“… Fight,” Green continued. “Go out there and play with confidence and know we’re gonna get the win. We’re a great team, we’re a deep team.”