The Denver Nuggets picked up a needed, methodical 121-104 victory over Charlotte Monday night to clinch their sixth win in eight games.
Here are seven takeaways from the contest:
1. Dynamic backcourt. The combination of Gary Harris, Jamal Murray and Will Barton — which has starting together for the past two weeks — has been scorching from the field recently, combining to score an average of 64 points per game while shooting 54.3 percent from the field and 52.7 percent from 3-point distance. And all have had huge moments in those contests. Harris’ buzzer-beater against Oklahoma City. Murray’s 33 points against the Thunder. Barton scoring 10 of his 25 points against Golden State in the fourth quarter. Overall this season, Harris is shooting 48.9 percent from the floor and 39.7 percent from 3, Murray is shooting 45.5 percent from the field and 38.2 percent from long range and Barton is shooting 43.9 percent from the floor and 36.1 percent from deep.
I also asked Harris if Monday was the best his 3-point shot has felt this season. He (surprisingly) said no.
“It was feeling really good at the beginning of the season,” Harris said. “I’m trying to get back to that.”
2. Limiting Howard. At first, this looked like the type of game that Denver would really miss interior defensive anchor Mason Plumlee. Charlotte big man Dwight Howard was absolutely manhandling Nikola Jokic 1-on-1 in the first half, going 7-of-7 from the field for 15 points in 15 minutes. Coach Michael Malone joked that Jokic “played possum” and then “rope-a-doped” Howard. But the Nuggets’ defense helped much more after the break, limiting Howard to four points on 2-of-4 from the field while also preventing Jokic from picking up his fourth foul. Howard also finished with seven rebounds, well below his season average of 12.6 per game to rank in fourth in the NBA.
“In the first half, it was just too easy,” Malone said. “Nikola was on an island by himself.”
3. Magic cream? Jokic also immediately turned around his offensive game in the second half, scoring 10 of his 15 points in the first six minutes of the third quarter to help Denver push its lead back to double digits. The secret? Jokic said “the ball was falling out of my hands” in the first half, but that he put some magic “cream” on during halftime that helped the ball stick. Regardless, Jokic also totaled 16 rebounds and seven assists, and the Nuggets are now 17-5 when the big man records a double-double or better.
4. DA dunks. Reserve forward Darrell Arthur, who has been getting more minutes recently while Plumlee has been out, was originally questionable to play Monday with knee soreness. But it sure did not look like it when he threw down a second-half slam that sent the Nuggets’ bench into a frenzy.
“When’s the last time anybody saw Darrell dunk in a game?” Malone asked the team in the postgame locker room.
“When he was at Kansas,” Paul Millsap quipped.
But beyond the unexpectedly flashy play, Arthur totaled 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting in 14 minutes. Before last week’s start in San Antonio, Arthur had played 50 total minutes all season.
“I’m happy for him, because he’s been waiting for this moment,” Malone said of Arthur. “He’s (been) patient. He’s been a great veteran leader. Now, he’s having a chance to impact the game on the floor, and he’s taking advantage of it.”
5. Goodbye, Hornets. The Nuggets are now finished with nine season series, going 2-0 against Brooklyn, 2-0 against Orlando, 2-1 against New Orleans, 2-2 against Utah, 1-1 against Atlanta, 1-1 against New York, 0-2 against Boston, 2-2 against Golden State and 1-1 against Charlotte. The most “important” of those is the Pelicans series, given how packed the bottom of the West is right now. The season series is used as a playoff seeding tiebreaker.
6. Trade deadline looms. It was a bit strange walking out of the Nuggets’ locker room Monday, knowing there could be some personnel changes before Denver’s next home game against San Antonio on Feb. 13. We will obviously be closely monitoring the trade deadline the next couple days. Will the Nuggets add a backup point guard? A small forward? Something else? Malone has made this clear — he hopes Denver can free up a roster spot for Torrey Craig, whose 45 days with Denver as part of his two-way contract are almost up. Craig totaled six points and seven rebounds in 27 minutes Monday — and survived a scary fall when he flew into the air to contest a Cody Zeller finish in the fourth quarter and landed on his shoulder/back.
7. Simple, yet efficient. Perhaps nothing captures Harris’ personality and approach than his answer when asked what type of shot is his favorite to fire: “An open shot.”