On a night when everything was supposed to go wrong, the Denver Nuggets dominated the competition in an impressive display of grit and camaraderie to advance to 2-2 in the preseason.
With both Bones Hyland and Jamal Murray sidelined, Denver’s two most lethal scoring options, the Nuggets surged to a 126-115 victory over a Paul George-led Los Angeles Clippers squad favored to come out on top.
With Murray and Hyland out along with Jeff Green and DeAndre Jordan, the starting lineup remained in question leading right up to tip-off. Thankfully, Big Honey made his return to the court alongside Michael Porter Jr., Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Bruce Brown, and Aaron Gordon to help the team come out victorious after four quarters.
Despite having Nikola Jokic back in the lineup following a minor wrist injury, it was his surrounding cast that got the job done.
Efficient shooting from the starters got Denver off to a hot start
While Yoke played in just 15 minutes, recording two points, three rebounds, and seven assists, KCP led the starters in scoring notching home 14 points on 4-of-8 shooting from the field, 2-of-6 from three-point range, and a perfect 4-of-4 from the charity stripe. MPJ and Gordon each added in 12 a piece as well, which is impressive enough given that all of the starters only played the first half.
Although, what was even more impressive was how Denver’s second unit completely took the game over in the closing minutes of the first quarter, giving the Nuggets a 37-29 lead heading into the second.
These stellar early game performances were then extended into the second quarter, with the Denver Nuggets stretching their lead to 13 early in the second, giving them a steady 74-66 lead going into the half.
Unfortunately, the Nuggets’ second unit of Davon Reed, Ish Smith, Zeke Nnaji, Vlatko Cancar, and Christian Braun wasn’t able to slow down the Clippers’ scorers in the third. Allowing guard Normal Powell to heat up, finishing the night with a game-high 34 points on 11-of-14 shooting from the field, 4-of-6 from three, and a perfect 8-of-8 from the free-throw line.
The final quarter of the game saw Denver leap out to a double-digit lead early despite beginning the quarter tied at 100. Ish Smith assisted in getting the Nuggets off to a hot start in the fourth, setting up rookies Christian Braun and Peyton Watson for open looks all over the floor, both of whom played confidently and aggressively all night, two welcome traits from any rookie duo.
Zeke Nnaji held things down in the paint as well, notching eight points, three rebounds, and a block in the final quarter of play. Helping the Nuggets close out a key victory leading up to their final preseason game against the defending champion Warriors.
Ish Smith was also given the coveted DPOG chain thanks to his energy and leadership throughout.
What lies ahead for the Nuggets?
The Denver Nuggets now head to Golden State for their final preseason game of 2022, where they’ll hope to build off their previous two wins against the Suns and Clippers. Whether or not Murray and Hyland will be available for this game remains to be seen, however, it doesn’t look like it’ll matter all that much anyway.
In Denver’s past two wins, they relied heavily on the savvy point guard play of veteran Ish Smith as well as assisted scoring help from Christian Braun and Zeke Nnaji, who are each fighting for more minutes in the rotation.
Aaron Gordon and Bruce brown also supplied some help on the defensive end in both games, while MPJ finally found his rhythm against LA, shooting 4-of-6 from the field, and a perfect 3-of-3 from beyond the arc.
While the Clippers were without one of their own superstars in Kawhi Leonard, it’s worth noting that Nikola Jokic was a nonfactor in the scoring department and the Nuggets were still able to pull out a win.
This bodes well for the team moving forward as they took out two of the premier teams in the Western Conference and did so without some of their best players (and subpar performances from Porter Jr.)
The regular season tips off for the Denver Nuggets next week on the road against their division foe Utah Jazz, who appears to be in full rebuild mode. Based on the current health of the team and their latest performances, Denver appears primed to establish their dominance in the division early and kick off their 2022-23 campaign with a win in Vivint Arena come October 19th.