For three days, the Nuggets stewed over their abysmal showing at Golden State, not able to modify the narrative that their crime had ground to a halt due to ball-stopping, selfish play.
Tuesday nightthey put a hard stop to this subject.
The Nuggets dished a season-high 40 assists and pounded the Minnesota Timberwolves 133-107 at the Pepsi Center to improve to 44-22. After their period of self-reflection, it was the sort of commanding, cathartic win the Nuggets needed after dropping four of their last five.
“After the last few days, the movie sessions and just harping on ball movement and being selfless and playing for each other, for us to go out there and get 40 assists on 51 field targets, was refreshing and enjoyable to watch,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said.
It was their most assists in a game since 2013.
Nikola Jokic finished with 18 points, eight rebounds and seven assists, one of three Nuggets players to record at least six helpers.
Mason Plumlee (eight) and Monte Morris (six) were the others, setting the tone for a democratic, offensive assault. The Nuggets were also fantastic from the 3-point line (18 of 30), a direct consequence of the ball movement.
Timberwolves star Karl-Anthony Towns was the sole continuing threat on the other end, logging 34 points and 10 rebounds.
Jamal Murray scored 11 of his team-high 30 points as the Nuggets extended their lead to 94-78 in a reassuring third quarter. Morris conducted the crime with steady poise and returned to the 3-point threat he was earlier this year. Morris murdered four 3-pointers, his most since Dec. 10. Paul Millsap (23 points) capped the 36-point quarter with a buzzer-beating halfcourt 3-pointer.
Malone triumphed before the game that changes could be coming. In an effort to ready his team for the postseason, he trimmed his bench and tinkered with rotations.
“Definitely looking at ways to improve our team, and if shortening our rotation’s the answer, certainly keen to do that, playing less men, more moments and kind of going with this as we head into the postseason,” Malone said. “It’s all about trying to find a rhythm, because when we had it, we were really good. And today we’re kind of out of rhythm. ”
He leaned on his most trusted reserves — Morris, Plumlee and Malik Beasley — for extended minutes in what might be a window into his playoff rotations. Isaiah Thomas didn’t make it off the bench, a movement that Malone said he spoke with the former all-star.
Despite the fact that the Nuggets entered Tuesday night’s game just 4-4 because the all-star break, they still found themselves in a much more positive position than last year when, despite a late-season rush, they missed the playoffs on the last day of the year.
“Last year, most people had given us up, and we rallied ourselves,” Malone said. “We had nothing to lose. This season we’re the No. 2 seed with 17 games to go and have had (a great) season to this point. So today you’re enjoying from nothing to lose to ‘Hey, you’ve got a lot to lose. ’ Are you going to permit that pressure to induce you to become a very tight group? ”
That’s their primary obstacle over the last 16 games of the regular season with the No. 3 Houston Rockets surging behind them.
Denver had several days to marinate on Friday’s loss to the defending champion Warriors, which might have consequences for playoff seeding. During that time, Malone challenged his team with honest, frank criticism.
“That’s one of my questions to our team,” Malone said. “Who do we want to be? Do you need to chase the No. 1 seed? Do you need home-court advantage? Do you want to just squeak into the playoffs? Who do we need to be with 17 games to go? ”
The Nuggets looked like their former selves in the first half against a wounded Wolves team missing Andrew Wiggins. They whipped the ball around for 21 assists on 24 field goals and surged to a 58-48 lead. Murray had a team-high 11 points, but the ball funneled through their two inside distributors with Plumlee and Jokic combining for 11 assists. Plumlee, perhaps stealing a hint from Jokic’s bag, even threw a no-look, behind-the-head pass to Jokic for an easy basket.
Eight Nuggets players scored at least five points in the first half, another indication of the concerted effort to play more selflessly.
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Only Towns, who had been a game-time choice, managed to find space for Minnesota. He poured in 18 points on 13 shots on the first two quarters.
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