The 2019-20 NBA season went on hiatus on March 11 because of the coronavirus pandemic. The season will return on July 30 and NBA.com‘s writers are taking an updated look at each of the league’s 30 teams.
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Record: 43-22, No. 3 in Western Conference
Season summary: At the time the league went on hiatus, the Nuggets were the only team that was on pace to win the same number of games as it did last season (54). Denver had the most roster continuity from season to season and has gotten only 5% of its minutes (the league’s third-lowest rate) from rookies and second-year players. The Nuggets have taken a small step backward statistically (0.9 points per 100 possessions worse than they were last season), but have been one of the league’s best teams in close games for a second straight year. They have one of the toughest matchups in the league and the ability to beat any opponent on any given night. The Nuggets are one of three teams — Boston and Philadelphia are the others — with wins over the top two teams in each conference. But they still appear to be a step below the Lakers and Clippers, lacking some punch offensively and somebody to defend the best players on the two L.A. teams.
Breakout player: After he sat out his first season in the league, there was a lot of anticipation for the debut of Michael Porter Jr., the No. 14 pick of the 2018 Draft. But on the league’s deepest team that has 10 returning rotation players from the No. 2 seed in the West and added Jerami Grant, Porter was going to have to earn his playing time. He wasn’t in the rotation to start the season, and he lost his spot again in February, struggling to gain coach Michael Malone’s trust on the defensive end of the floor. But in between, there were signs of a potential star on offense. Porter broke out at the end of December and made some noise with a career-high 25 points on 11-for-12 shooting in Indiana on Jan. 2. Over 10 games later that month, the rookie averaged 14.7 points on an effective field-goal percentage of 58%, and the Nuggets were at their best (plus-11.5 points per 100 possessions) with him on the floor. But an ankle injury derailed his run of consistent playing time.
Statement win: The Nuggets were playing the second game of a back-to-back without three starters on Jan. 31 against Milwaukee. They gave up 43 points in the first quarter, trailing by as many as 14. But their bench kept them in the game and they took control with a 40-24 third quarter, holding on for a 12-point win. All nine Nuggets that played scored in double figures. They were led by Will Barton, who scored 24 points, with six of the team’s season-high 22 3-pointers. Nikola Jokic was one assist shy of a triple-double and the Nuggets outscored the Bucks by 21 points in less than 15 minutes with the All-Star off the floor. The Nuggets are tied for the second best record (8-2) in the second games of back-to-backs, and this was the most impressive of the eight wins. Unfortunately, two nights later, they blew a 21-point lead and lost in Detroit.
Most compelling game: Only the Thunder have played more “clutch” games than the Nuggets, who have had 40 of their 65 games within five points in the last five minutes. Their visit to Utah on Feb. 5 wasn’t the prettiest game of the year. The two teams combined to score less than a point per possession. But it was a big win, the last of five road victories over teams that went into the hiatus with winning records, and the shorthanded Nuggets had to dig out of a big hole to get it. With a trade in the works and with six guys injured, Denver had only seven healthy players, one of whom — Vlatko Cancar — had never played more than six minutes in an NBA game. They trailed by 15 in the third quarter and by nine with less than six minutes to go in the fourth. But they outscored the Jazz, 17-5, down the stretch, with Jokic putting them ahead with a ridiculous turnaround jumper over Rudy Gobert with 59.1 seconds left. The Jazz missed two shots for the win and a long 3 for the tie, and the Nuggets ended a nine-game losing streak in Utah. Jokic finished with 30 points (on 14-for-24 shooting), 21 rebounds and 10 assists (with just one turnover).
Memorable moments: From Feb. 4-12, Murray took charge after missing 10 games with an ankle injury. After scoring 20 points in less than 20 minutes in a win over Portland on Feb. 4, he averaged 31.3 points and 6.3 assists over the next four games. Murray had an effective field goal percentage of 66.3% over the five-game stretch, scoring 31 points in the Feb. 5 win in Utah (noted above) and dropping 36 (on 14-for-17 shooting) three nights later in Phoenix. … On Dec. 29, Porter Jr. had his breakout game. He scored 15 points in his debut in New Orleans on Oct. 31, but most of those points came in garbage time of a 15-point loss. And over the Nuggets’ next 26 games, the rookie averaged just 4.0 points in 8.4 minutes per contest, getting DNP’d five times. But on Dec. 29, Porter got his first start and broke out with 19 points on 8-for-10 shooting in a win over the Sacramento Kings, capping the performance off with a ferocious tip-dunk over Buddy Hield. Porter would score a career-high 25 points in Indiana four nights later.
From Nov. 8-10, the Nuggets had two games and two game-winners. That game-winner in Utah was not the only one Jokic has had this season. He’s 5-for-8 on shots for the lead in the final minute of the fourth quarter or overtime, and he had two of them in the span of about 50 hours in early November, rainbow jumpers against the Sixers and Wolves. The first capped a comeback from 21 points down, while the second helped the Nuggets escape after blowing a 16-point lead.
Team MVP: After finishing fourth in Kia MVP voting last season, Jokic got off to a slow start, averaging just 14.9 points on an effective field-goal percentage of 48% through the Nuggets’ first 19 games. He scored fewer than 10 points four times in a five-game stretch ending in New York on Dec. 5. But the following night, Jokic busted out with 30 points on 13-for-21 shooting in Boston. He’s one of two players — Giannis Antetokounmpo is the other — who lead their team in points, rebounds and assists per game, having averaged 22.4 (on an effective field goal percentage of 59%), 10.3 and 7.1 since those first 19. He hasn’t missed a game this season, he’s the fulcrum of a top-10 offense, and the Nuggets have scored 6.9 more points per 100 possessions with Jokic on the floor (112.9) than they have with him off the floor (106.0). Leading the league in touches (97.6), frontcourt touches (57.8), and passes (75.3) per contest, the Nuggets’ MVP could finish in the top five league-wide for a second straight season.
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