A four-game win streak came to an end for the Nuggets on Saturday night in Sacramento, where the Kings opened up a 17-point lead in the first half and held on for a 123-117 win.
After playing five games in the last seven days, Denver (14-7) has three days off before visiting the Clippers on Wednesday.
Back-to-back good fortune was up
The defending champions were one of only three NBA teams with five back-to-backs in the first six weeks of the 2023-24 schedule. It was an unlucky draw for the Nuggets after a short offseason, but they have somehow managed to turn lemons into lemonade for the most part, winning the second game of all four back-to-backs before Sacramento (Utah, Chicago, at Detroit, at Los Angeles). In two of those four, they were without Nikola Jokic during crunch time.
It was only a matter of time before that good fortune ran out, and Sacramento was coming off two days of rest. All things considered, it’s impressive that Denver has allowed only 106.6 points per game in the second game of back-to-backs so far. There’s another on the road one week from now, in Atlanta then Chicago.
Outside shooting the difference
Jamal Murray didn’t play for the Nuggets again, missing the whole road back-to-back after returning from his hamstring injury for one game earlier in the week. While Nikola Jokic posted his 27th career 30-point triple-double (36, 13, 14) by making an array of ridiculous 2-point shots, the Nuggets missed Murray’s hot shooting ability. They couldn’t buy a basket from outside.
Denver shot 6-for-25 beyond the arc, while allowing the Kings to make 16 of 34 attempts from three. The only stretch of the game in which the Nuggets discovered something was a late 10-0 run to close within three points in the fourth quarter. Aaron Gordon and Jokic made key threes during the comeback effort.
Good trip for Watson, but bad night for bench
Jokic bounced back from a scoring “off” night in Phoenix (21 points) by amassing 16 points in the first quarter. He checked out late in the quarter with the Nuggets leading 27-19. During his rest minutes, the Kings went on a 23-7 run as JaVale McGee blocked shots and controlled the paint against a struggling DeAndre Jordan, who had played well in recent games. This was a regression for Jordan, who played 9:50 while Michael Malone continued to not play Zeke Nnaji.
Denver’s bench was a leading culprit as Sacramento scored 39 points in the second quarter and opened up the double-digit lead that the Nuggets were fighting back from the rest of the night. By halftime, bench points were already 26-9 Sacramento.
Peyton Watson was a huge positive defensively for the second consecutive game, however. He followed up his airtight second half against Kevin Durant by guarding impressively against De’Aaron Fox and other Kings players. With 2:30 remaining and Denver trailing 114-110, Malone tried to check Watson in for a defensive possession, but the officials said he didn’t get to the table on time and didn’t allow him to enter. While Watson returned to the bench, more than a minute passed without a dead ball. It ended with Malik Monk hitting a dagger three with 1:11 left, capping his 26-point night off the bench.