The Nuggets built a 21-point lead but couldn’t overcome a second rally by the Brooklyn Nets in a heartbreaking 125-119 defeat.
Denver added another name to the injury list pregame as Aaron Gordon was ruled out with right calf tightness. Despite missing the versatile two-way forward along with Jamal Murray, Monte Morris, and Will Barton III, the Nuggets gave a valiant effort against the oddsmakers favorite to win the NBA title.
Nikola Jokić was once again dominant, dropping 29 points, seven rebounds and six assists in the Nuggets loss. Kevin Durant led the Nets with 33 points on 64.3 percent shooting and added 11 boards and seven dimes.
"They came out really aggressive. They were making shots. They were creating open shots. They’re a talented team," Jokić said after the loss. "They were playing really good and they had a lot of players to score."
Michael Malone and his team will now get a two-day break before aiming to end their two-game slide in Charlotte against the Hornets (5 p.m. MT, ALTITUDE).
Here are the takeaways:
Second half unraveling
For the second-straight game, the Nuggets made some mistakes down the stretch that cost them the game.
Denver had 17 turnovers, which Brooklyn converted into 25 points. Against any team that would be difficult to overcome, but it was especially damaging against the Nets – arguably the best scoring team in the league. The Nuggets saw a 15-point lead at the break quickly evaporate in the third quarter.
"I thought the third quarter was where everything turned," Malone said. "Obviously, we got off to a great start. They closed that second quarter on a run. The start of that third quarter, and third quarter overall, was just awful."Nikola, MPJ shine
The first half of the contest showcased a thrilling matchup between one of the league’s greats in Durant against one of its promising young players in Michael Porter Jr. The second-year forward didn’t disappoint.
Porter Jr. opened emphatically with a 17-point first quarter on 6 of 8 shooting. The forward also connected on five threes on the night. When the 22-year-old was held quiet in the second half, Jokić would take over. The center responded with 16 points against Brooklyn in the final 24 minutes.
Markus shows potential
Undrafted and 5-foot-10. It didn’t matter, Markus Howard showed he could score at the NBA level with an ambitious and effective outing against the Nets.
"With our team, we have so many talented guys, and just to be around them each and every day is a blessing in itself," Howard said. "We have some guys out, so there's the next man up mentality. It's just about staying ready."
The rookie provided some much-needed punch off the bench for an injury-depleted Nuggets team, hitting two threes and finishing with 13 in 14 minutes. This was Howard’s first run at extended minutes with a lot of the Nuggets’ lead rotation players and he showed a strong comfort level in the first half. In the second quarter, he hit 4 of 7 for 10 of his final tally. Nets star Kyrie Irving guarded Howard on some of those possessions, which made the extended minutes hit home for the former Marquette standout.
"First and foremost, Kyrie is one of the best players in the NBA; a person I've grown up watching. I have a lot of respect for his game and for what he represents," Howard said. "To be able to compete and be on the court with him was definitely an awesome feeling. It's something that, as a kid, you can't really imagine happening. But the fact that it's happening is really cool to have that moment and realization."
With the Nuggets entering their final four games of the season, there is a chance that some rotation players might be rested. There could be additional opportunities for a player like Howard to showcase his development during that stretch.