The Nuggets’ 116-110 loss to the Knicks on Saturday in New York City didn’t feel like the previous four defeats.
For one, the Knicks are a playoff team playing at home. Additionally, Denver’s effort was up to a level that gave them a chance to win away from home. After the first quarter, the Nuggets held the Knicks to 29 or fewer points in the final three quarters.
While the Nuggets failed to score after tying the game in the final three minutes, it wasn’t due to turnovers. Jamal Murray, who was shooting it well throughout, missed a makeable shot. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope missed a good look that would’ve given the Nuggets the lead. Nikola Jokic missed the Nuggets’ final two shots, a pair of 3-pointers. He finished with 24 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists against six turnovers.
Although things looked better Saturday, the losses all count the same, and Denver’s lead atop the Western Conference is shrinking quickly.
Second-unit shuffling continues
It appears that little is settled for the Nuggets’ second unit behind Bruce Brown.
Brown’s nearly 28 minutes of playing time was significantly more than the rest of the reserves. Jeff Green played 19 minutes. Christian Braun was on the court for 14 minutes, while Thomas Bryant played nine, the fewest minutes among the reserves.
With Nuggets coach Michael Malone seemingly searching for a bench group he can ride into the playoffs, Reggie Jackson wasn’t in the rotation against the Knicks. Braun was out of the rotation up until a few games ago, while the Nuggets have also experimented with playing without a traditional center in the second unit.
There will likely be more tinkering with the bench over the final 11 games of the regular season.
Another big body available
The Nuggets announced Zeke Nnaji was available to play prior to Saturday morning’s tipoff.
Nnaji missed more than a month with a shoulder sprain. Last week, Malone said the team was hopeful he would not need surgery, which appears to be the case. The third-year forward didn’t play Saturday, as Green has been Malone’s choice at back-up power forward recently. With Nnaji back in uniform, there’s no shortage of options if the Nuggets coach wants to try something different.
Nnaji is the best defender of the bunch. Vlatko Cancar has shot it better than his fellow bench bigs, while Jeff Green provides the second unit with a jolt of athleticism and experience.
KNICKS 116, NUGGETS 110
What happened: The Nuggets made up for a slow start but couldn’t hold on, losing for the fifth time in six games.
The Knicks scored 36 points in the first quarter and won the opening period by eight. The Nuggets bounced back by winning the second quarter 39-26, good for a 67-62 lead at halftime. The game was tied at the start of the fourth quarter. It was tied at 110 with 2:30 left in the fourth quarter, but Denver couldn’t guy a bucket the rest of the way.
Denver’s lead atop the Western Conference will be down to 3.5 games if either the Grizzlies or Kings win Saturday night.
What went right: Denver’s point guards had another productive day. Jamal Murray scored a game-high 25 points and needed just 14 shots to get there. He made 5 of 7 from 3-point range and added six assists and four rebounds. Bruce Brown handled the 13-plus minutes Murray was out of the game and finished with 11 points, six assists and four rebounds.
What went wrong: In the first half, it was offensive rebounds. The Knicks grabbed nine and turned those into 14 second-chance points before halftime. They finished with 15 offensive rebounds, which led to a 20-12 advantage in second-chance points. In the second half, it was turnovers. After turning it over just four times in the first half, Denver gave the ball away nine times after halftime.
Highlight of the day: There was a second Statue of Liberty in New York City on Saturday. Jeff Green drove the lane early in the fourth quarter and elevated for one of his signature dunks. After beating his defender with a shot fake, Green got a head of steam and elevated the ball with his outstretched right hand for a dunk that brought the Nuggets within three points.
Up next: The Nuggets don’t have to go far for Sunday’s 1:30 p.m. tipoff against the Nets in Brooklyn.
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