Itching for a showdown with Golden State, the Nuggets got a spanking. Maybe this 142-111 loss will eventually be a teaching moment for a young team with championship dreams. But, right now, it hurts like a bruise.
“They came in here and showed why they are one of the best teams in the world. They’ve won world championships for a reason,” Denver coach Michael Malone said Tuesday, when Steph Curry and the Warriors emphatically re-established who’s the boss hogg in the Western Conference. “They sent a message. They came in and kicked our …”
The Nuggets got their hats handed to them.
Going into the game, Denver sat in first place of the Western standings, with the Warriors in second. But true championship teams find at a whole different level at winning time.
“We don’t have that level yet,” Malone said.
It’s good to be the kings. All the mundane stuff of being a dynasty, however, grows old. No matter how cozy the charter flight, the NBA road can be cold and dreary in January. Even Warriors get bored.
Well, give the Nuggets credit for one thing: By boldly grabbing the conference’s top seed at the midway point of the season, they definitely got Golden State’s attention. Kinda like a nail attracts a hammer.
“In terms of getting that No. 1 seed and all that type of stuff,” Warriors guard Steph Curry admitted prior to tipoff, “it’s still important for us.”
The Nuggets showed up in the Pepsi Center to play basketball.
The trouble? Golden State was playing NBA Jam on fire. Who gave Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson the cheat codes?
The Warriors scored 51 points in the first quarter.
“Mind-boggling,” Malone said. “I can’t wrap my head around that number.”
The last time I recall seeing 12 minutes of basketball so lopsided, Charles Barkley was clowning Angola in the Olympics.
Here’s what to remember on an otherwise forgettable night. Golden State offered a preview of what the Nuggets are guaranteed to see in the playoffs. It’s a blueprint brutal in its simplicity, as blunt as a lead pipe:
Attack Nikola Jokic relentlessly.
Although his development to the NBA elite level has been Jiffy Pop quick, the Joker remains prone to silly fouls, and his feet will never be quick on defense. So the Warriors attacked him off the dribble, and Jokic trudged back to the Denver bench with two fouls before the first quarter was seven minutes old.
With an expanding offensive arsenal that includes a baby hook and dubstep popping footwork has transformed Jokic into a trance-inducing scorer in the paint, one way to rattle him is with a quick and relentless high-low double team. Four hands of two defenders simultaneously work to mess with his eyes and hands. It might not force turnovers from Jokic, but it fogs his X-ray vision and reduces the number of easy-bucket assists.
The Warriors splashed 21 shots from 3-point range. Curry, Durant and Thompson combined for 89 points while shooting 65 percent from the field.
“They took it to another level and left us in the dust,” Malone said.
The way Golden State toyed with the Nuggets and gunned ’em down, it reminded me of a recent movie. Upon blasting away a challenge from a young hotshot, Buster Scruggs turns to the camera and proclaims: “Another young fella with something to prove. I’ve got to set myself in the undertakin’ business. I’m doing all the skill work, so another man can profit.”
In Jokic, the Nuggets have a bona fide star.
“We need to learn from them,” he said.
In Curry, Durant and Thompson, the Warriors have three of the most dangerous men in the West.
“I think,” Durant said, “they know who we are.”
The baddest dudes in the West. The team the Nuggets want to be when they grow up.