The Nuggets’ week-long break didn’t slow down their momentum as they picked up a gritty 103-102 against the Grizzlies in Memphis.
Nikola Jokić picked up from where he left off as he almost had another triple-double with 28 points, 15 rebounds, and seven assists on 59.1 percent shooting. Memphis was led by Dillon Brooks and Brandon Clarke, who both scored 20 apiece.
Denver has picked up an impressive five consecutive victories on the road and earns a much-deserved trip back home. The team will aim to pick up its sixth-straight win when it hosts Dallas just over 24 hours later (7 p.m. MT, ALTITUDE).
Here are the takeaways:
Denver overcomes rust to pick up another impressive win
A week off is an eternity in basketball and it showed at times for the Nuggets. Denver’s quartet of guards in Jamal Murray, Monte Morris, P.J. Dozier, and Facundo Campazzo combined for 7 of 35 shooting. Fortunately, other Nuggets picked up the slack and the team played a smart game on offense.
Up against the league-leader in forced turnovers, Denver only surrendered nine turnovers. While Memphis was able to convert those giveaways to 15 points, that’s below the team’s average of 20.3 points per game. The Nuggets were also able to limit their opponents’ effectiveness on the fast break and in the paint.
"Extremely happy, that was a huge point of emphasis," Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said. "They are the No. 1 running team in the NBA and you can never fuel their break...[The careful approach] was a big part of our success tonight."
The Grizzlies are the league leaders in fast break points, but they were held to just seven points in that area. Ja Morant was largely contained on the night as well, shooting 5 of 16. Malone praised Monte Morris for leading the charge in slowing down the young Grizzlies' star.
"I thought Monte's defense on one of the more talented young players in the league in Ja Morant was exceptional," the coach said. "Obviously, it wasn't just Monte, but Monte took it head on...Your defense always starts on the ball and Monte led the charge tonight."
The MVP is back!!!
Nikola Jokić had the shortest break out of any Nuggets player, due to his participation in All-Star Weekend. It didn’t matter.
The Joker came out firing, having a dominant performance against one of the better defensive teams in the league in the Grizzlies. Memphis continued to throw different defensive matchups at the 26-year-old, but Jokić made the team pay each time with a blend of intelligent play and incredible footwork. His ability to get laser focus in the clutch proved pivotal once again as he put the Nuggets up four in the final minute of the game with a three-pointer and a hook shot over Valanciunas. With Jamal Murray having an off-night shooting, it was Jokić efforts in the fourth that iced the win.
Another player who deserves a shoutout is Will Barton III, who has quietly looked like the player he was last season before an injury that ruled out him for the rest of the campaign. Barton III also had a crucial three late in the game and finished with 21 points and four dimes.
"We don't win this game without Will's productivity throughout the game," Malone said.
Memphis is like a second home for Barton III, who starred in college for the Tigers nearby.
"I went to college here for two years, the best two years of my life," Barton III said. "The city really embraced me, when [others] doubted me -- it's definitely my second home. Every time I come back here to play, it just brings back so many different memories. Anytime I come to the city, there's still a lot of love. I love coming here and performing."
The Nuggets are on a five-game win streak and a lot of their recent success has come from the decision to start Porter Jr. at the power forward spot. Prior to Friday’s contest, the second-year forward was averaging 18 points and 10.8 boards on an eye-catching 61.4 percent shooting. That also includes an unfathomable 55.6 percent from downtown. Despite having a seven-day break, Porter Jr.’s hot hand continued in Memphis.
Porter Jr. got going early, as he poured in nine points on 3 of 6 shooting. He would get back to work on that end in the second half with 12 points on 5 of 5 shooting. As good as Porter Jr. was on the offense, he also made his presence felt on the other end. His emphatic block on Jonas Valanciunas in the second quarter was deflating for a Grizzlies team that had led by as many as nine in the opening 12 minutes. The comfort level on defense from Porter Jr. at the power forward position has been positive. Porter Jr. also hit a crucial three-pointer at the 2:36 mark that put Denver ahead 95-93. Porter Jr. finished with 21 points and nine rebounds.
"You can say that, but honestly, I just found my groove," Porter Jr. said of his success at the position. "I don't think it really matters, [playing] the three or four. I'm still spacing the floor in either position."
With the team continuing to pick up wins, if it ain't broke…