There was an all too familiar rhythm to Denver Nuggets games over the last two seasons. The Nuggets were difficult to stop with Nikola Jokic on the floor. If they didn’t build a lead with their Serbian center at the controls, they at least stayed competitive. But when Jokic went to get a breather, any progress they made stalled. Too often, they fell to pieces.
Take the 2017-18 regular-season finale against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Denver outscored Minnesota by seven points in the 46 minutes Jokic played; in the seven minutes he sat of the overtime thriller, Minnesota outscored Denver by 13 points. The game underscored one of the biggest issues that kept the Nuggets from getting into the postseason: They got overwhelmed when head coach Michael Malone went to his bench.
Opponents outscored the Nuggets by 4.3 points per 100 possessions any time one of their reserves was on the floor. That was the seventh-worst mark in basketball.