The Morning After: 8 observations from Denver Nuggets’ win at Sacramento Kings

Steve Yeater, The Associated Press Denver Nuggets guard Will Barton (5) drives around Sacramento Kings guard Garrett Temple (17) and Sacramento Kings forward Zach Randolph (50) during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Sacramento, Calif., Monday, Nov. 20, 2017.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The Denver Nuggets overcame “adverse circumstances” to beat the Sacramento Kings 114-98 in a game played without head coach Michael Malone, Paul Millsap and Wilson Chandler and one night after a disastrous showing in Los Angeles. The Nuggets are now 10-7 overall and 3-5 on the road.

Here are eight takeaways from the victory:

1. Wacky lineups. Being down two starting forwards meant acting head coach Wes Unseld Jr. had to get creative with his lineups. Here’s a random sampling.

First quarter: Emmanual Mudiay, Gary Harris, Juancho Hernangomez, Trey Lyles, Mason Plumlee
Start of second quarter: Mudiay, Will Barton, Juancho Hernangomez, Plumlee, Nikola Jokic
Later in second quarter: Barton, Harris, Hernangomez, Plumlee, Jokic
Start of fourth quarter: Jamal Murray, Harris, Hernangomez, Lyles Plumlee

The most successful from the above groups was the third, which helped spark a 9-0 Nuggets run.

Additionally, rookie forward Tyler Lydon, who has been with the Nuggets for the past couple weeks while rehabbing a sprained ankle, made his NBA debut. Veterans Richard Jefferson and Darrell Arthur did not play.

2. Thriller night. Barton scored a game-high 25 points and set season highs in both field goals (nine) and 3-pointers (five). But he was most pleased with his uptick in defensive intensity, an area he acknowledged had been “slacking” over the past two games. Unseld, though, was quite pleased with Barton’s offensive contributions.

“He played not only as an aggressive scorer, but he was a playmaker for us,” the coach said. “Down the stretch, he controlled the game.”

3. Jokic’s stride. Jokic had a quiet first half offensively, scoring four points on 2-of-4 shooting. But he was noticeably more aggressive coming out of the locker room. He grabbed an offensive rebound and converted a reverse layup, then nailed a 3-pointer on the Nuggets’ next possession to spark a 7-0 run to begin the frame. He scored 10 of his 16 points in the period. The only thing that temporarily slowed him down? Getting knocked in the face in traffic, leading to him lying on the ground with his face in his hands for several seconds as his teammates played on. He got looked at by trainers during a timeout and immediately went back in the game.

4. Points, points and more points. Denver’s 67 second-half points are the most Sacramento has given up in a half this season. Ditto for the 11 3-pointers the Nuggets hit after intermission.

5. Falling short. The major stat categories the Nuggets lost Monday? Points off turnovers (17 to 12), keeping Denver last in the NBA in that category at 20.1 per game. Free throw shooting percentage (75 to 88.9), though the Kings’ nine attempts was a season low. And fastbreak points (19 to 14).

6. Unseld’s debut. Assistant coaches generally don’t talk to the media, which meant the most words I’ve ever heard Unseld speak all came Monday. He was poised and in that role and is clearly respected by the Nuggets players behind closed doors. Murray said once Unseld gave his pregame talk, that’s when he knew the Nuggets had a “different type of energy” compared to Sunday night in Los Angeles.

7. Millsap’s injury status unknown. I asked Unseld about the long-term prognosis for Millsap’s sprained left wrist, and the coach said he was “not aware of any timetable” other than Millsap would get re-evaluated “at some point.” But after the game, Unseld seemed optimistic that Millsap and Chandler would return soon.

8. Hello, Sacramento. I had never spent any time in Sacramento before Monday, other than flying in and out of the airport before driving to Stockton to cover the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament last spring. Coming in on the second day of a back-to-back — when honestly all I want to do is take a nap — makes it tough to get a true feel for the city. Then the unexpectedly newsy day made that darn near impossible. So I didn’t see much beyond the new Golden 1 Center, which is absolutely gorgeous. But I’ve now checked Sacramento and Charlotte off the list of NBA cities I had previously never visited. Still to come: Detroit, Milwaukee, Memphis and Philadelphia.

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