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Denver Nuggets 108, Los Angeles Clippers 121: Three takeaways

The Nuggets have yet to find their best basketball and it proved costly for a second-straight outing as they dropped a 121-108 result to the Clippers on Christmas.  When Denver ended the first quarter trailing 32-26, it appeared as if it would be another highly-competitive matchup against a team they beat in seven games in the Western Conference semifinals. The wheels would come off quickly for the Nuggets in the second quarter though. The Clippers would immediately answer with a back-breaking 12-2 run that Michael Malone’s team wasn't able to fully recover from. 

"This is a new season, a new team and new challenges. The bottom line is, I guess my job as a coach is to find a group that is going to compete and give ourselves a chance," Malone said after the game. "You can’t win in this league playing three quarters. As I mentioned earlier, the third quarter against Sacramento, was a joke. Tonight, the second quarter was a joke. They got whatever they wanted and that’s just not going to get the job done."  

Nikola Jokić remains ever-reliable, pouring in 24 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds to lead the Nuggets. Paul George tallied 23 points on 8-of-14 shooting and added nine assists and five boards to help the Clippers secure victory. Kawhi Leonard also had 21 points before a collision with Serge Ibaka forced him out of the game.  

The Nuggets were outshot by Clippers 55.4 to 46.3 percent on field goals, outrebounded 38 to 32 and beat on ball movement with Los Angeles holding an 32-25 edge on assists. Denver will now aim to regroup Monday evening against the Rockets at Ball Arena (7 p.m. MT, ALTITUDE). 

"We are 0 – 2, so hopefully we will find a way against Houston to come out from the get-go and sustain it," Malone said. 

 Here are the takeaways:  Concerning disparity from downtown  The aforementioned run by the Clippers was sparked by four consecutive three-pointers from Luke Kennard, Paul George, Reggie Jackson and Patrick Patterson. It was something that would carry on throughout the evening. Simply put, the Nuggets couldn’t defend the three, allowing Los Angeles to shoot 50 percent on 19 attempts from downtown. They also couldn’t counter, converting 11 of  their 36 three-point attempts. 

"They made one too many threes, one too many layups, one too many rebounds and with all of our mistakes, we couldn’t make up for it, even with our effort. We didn’t play for a full 48 [minutes]. We fought, we are not panicked, we are just frustrated. We hurt ourselves and it cost us the game," Jamal Murray said.  

Rebounding remains an issue Malone has been imploring his team to step it up on the glass but the Nuggets struggled to assert themselves in that area for a second straight game. Exiting the first half, Denver was outrebounded 25-11. Los Angeles, as a result, put up 72 points to Denver’s 55 in the opening 24 minutes.  In the second half, the effort improved and as a result, Denver was able to sustain a run in the fourth quarter and cut the deficit to 11 before finally losing by 13. 

"You can’t play three quarters in this league and expect to win. We played three quarters against Sacramento [Kings] and lost. We played three quarters tonight and lost. Playing hard shouldn’t be something that should be rewarded...Rebounding is effort. It’s fight, it’s competing. We are 0 – 2 and we have a ways to go to get out of this," Malone said. 

 Bench provides spark  Aside from another typical Jokić performance and a late surge from Murray, it was the efforts of the Nuggets reserves that sparked the team when they made run to make it competitive down the stretch. Will Barton III was electric every time he received the ball, providing a dazzling array of dribble moves and step backs en route to 15 points, five rebounds and three assists in 29 minutes. Thrill wasn’t the only player who shined off the bench. Monte Morris continued to prove why he’s one of the most efficient point guards in the NBA, pouring in 13 points and four assists to go along with  zero turnovers.  PJ Dozier’s impacted both ends of the floor. The “South Carolina Army Knife” as Malone calls him, played the bulk of his minutes in the fourth quarter and it’s no coincidence it was the best quarter the team outside of the opening 12 minutes of the game.  Dozier, who has lined up in positions one through four for Denver throughout this season, finished the game with seven points and two boards.