Coming into the Nuggets game vs the Portland Trail Blazers on December 15th, many were losing hope in the Michael Malone led team. The Nuggets, losers of 6 out of their last 8 coming into the game, were looking to switch some things up in their rotation. The game marked the first time all season that every player was available to play. Michael Malone took full advantage as he went with a rather small starting five that included: Emmanuel Mudiay, Gary Harris, Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, and Nikola Jokic(Finally!). This unit was relatively new to each other as it had only played 8 total minutes together all season. That didn’t seem to matter this game however, as off the bat you could tell this was a whole new team.
Gary Harris, who had returned from a 16 game absence with a nagging foot injury, brought a ton of energy and movement to this team. Scott Hastings could be heard countless times throughout the game praising the third year guard out of Michigan State for his ability to cut and drive to free other up for good looks. Harris, who is mostly a 3 and D type of player, played outstanding in his 31 minutes of action as he scored 18 points on 7-11 shooting, grabbed 4 rebounds and handed out 6 assists.
The next, and possibly most important, change to the starting lineup was the addition of Nikola Jokic. Coming into the game Jokic had been on a hot streak highlighted by his 27 point, 11 rebound explosion vs the Mavs. Many had been calling for the Serbian to enter the starting lineup for a while now as he had outperformed teammate Jusuf Nurkic for some time. Malone must have finally come around to that idea as Jusuf Nurkic only saw 5 minutes of action.
The only thing stopping Jokic from having another great night was his foul trouble. He picked up his fourth foul early in the third and was forced to become a spectator till the fourth quarter. Once in it wasn’t long until he was called for an offensive foul, his 5th foul, causing him to sit for the remainder of the game. He did, however, provide the highlight of the night when he slung a no-look pass to a driving Kenneth Faried for an easy two. The type of pass that we would expect to see from the likes of a John Wall or Chris Paul, not a 6 foot 11 inch center. Still, in his 19 minutes, he finished with 14 points, 5 assists and 4 rebound and a very impressive +15 +/-. He will have to keep his fouls in check if he wants to have an even bigger impact for this team going forward, but when he is in, he has as good of a skill set as any center in the league. Malones new starting five was an extreme success and passed its first test with flying colors. Hopefully, the Nuggets can carry over this momentum into Saturday as they face an old friend in Carmelo Anthony and the New York Knicks