The Denver Nuggets fell to the Portland Trail Blazers in an ugly 99-82 defeat on Monday. It was the second time the teams have faced each other since Denver sent Jusuf Nurkic and a first-round pick to Portland in exchange for Mason Plumlee. Portland has won both contests. Here are five observations from the game.
1. The Nuggets’ half-court offense looked awful
Last year, the Nuggets ranked among the NBA’s most efficient offenses in the half court. They finished the season sixth in points per 100 half-court possessions. This year … has been a different story. Denver entered Monday’s game ranked 27th in that category, per Cleaning the Glass. The Nuggets have enjoyed some positive moments this season — wins over Toronto and Orlando were bright spots — but too often, they’ve looked disjointed and unsure on that end. They finished with 13 assists, only one of which came in the second half.
Denver managed 82 points. It was the fifth time Denver’s been held under the 100-point mark this season. Last year, Denver was held under the century mark only six times from Dec. 15 on.
2. Nikola Jokic looked passive
Jokic has been extremely impressive since coming out of the gates slow in the Nuggets’ first two games of the season. He appeared to find his groove on Denver’s East Coast road trip and carried the momentum into the team’s six-game homestand. But his performance Monday was a bump in the road. Jokic finished the game with six points on 2-of-9 shooting, seven rebounds and three assists. Jokic didn’t score his second field goal of the night until the 6:20 mark in the third quarter. It was his last make of the game.
3. Nurkic played well — and Denver got Evan Turner‘d
For the second straight time, Nurkic won the battle against Jokic. He gave Denver issues rolling to the rim in the pick and roll. The Bosnian scored 15 points and grabbed five rebounds. He didn’t have the most efficient night (7-15 FG’s), and he turned the ball over seven times. But he still outplayed his former partner in the Nuggets’ frontcourt.
Portland also got a big game from Evan Turner. The Villain scored 14 points and dished out five assists. He hurt Denver from his most effective zone on the floor: the mid-range.
4. Gary Harris’ injury had ripple effects
Harris missed his second straight game with a sore right shoulder. Nuggets coach Michael Malone plugged Will Barton into the lineup in his absence. That move worked out well in Denver’s win over Orlando on Saturday. It didn’t go as well against Portland. The Nuggets’ bench looked lifeless without Barton. Emmanuel Mudiay, who put together a string of strong games on the homestand, was a minus-29 in 21 minutes. He scored four points and turned it over three times. Plumlee went scoreless and without a rebound in 5 minutes. Denver’s bench scored 14 points total.
5. Denver got loose with the ball
The Trail Blazers were forcing the second-fewest turnovers in the NBA coming into Monday. They should move up in that category, though, after the Nuggets turned the ball over 20 times against them. Jamal Murray turned the ball over six times. Millsap, Jokic, and Mudiay each turned it over three times. Denver committed far too many unforced errors to win.