The Morning After: 8 takeaways from Denver Nuggets’ win over Milwaukee Bucks

Milwaukee Bucks’ Tony Snell shoots as Denver Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018, in Milwaukee.

MILWAUKEE — The Denver Nuggets enter the all-star break on a high note after topping the Bucks 134-123 Thursday night behind a wildly efficient triple-double from Nikola Jokic (30 points, 15 rebounds, 17 assists).

Here are eight takeaways from Denver’s ninth win in its past 12 games:

1. Potent offense. Denver tied for its second-highest point total of the season, a “remarkable” output against a Bucks defense that had led the NBA in efficiency over its previous 11 games. And that’s been a trend during the Nuggets’ recent 9-3 stretch. Denver ranks second in the NBA in offensive efficiency over that span at 114.6 points per 100 possessions while facing five defenses ranked in the top 10 this season in defensive efficiency — Boston, San Antonio (twice), Golden State, Oklahoma City and Houston. And though Jokic’s triple-double was the primary storyline Thursday, others took charge offensively at times. Will Barton scored 13 points in the game’s first five minutes. Gary Harris had 20 points by halftime. Jamal Murray had 17 of his 26 points in the third quarter.

2. But about that defense… Malone continues to implore his team to take steps on the opposite end of the floor, as the Nuggets rank 27th in the NBA in defensive efficiency over their last 12 games (112.2 points allowed per 100 possessions). Denver surrendered 70 points in the paint against the Bucks, “a number that will keep me up a few nights,” Malone said. But reinforcements should be on the way back, as top rim protector Mason Plumlee (calf strain) looked good going through on-court work during pregame warm-ups in Milwaukee and appears on track to return following the all-star break.

3. That’s unexpected. A lot of rare feats unfolded Thursday. Jokic’s and Giannis Antetokounmpo’s monster triple-doubles. Denver tying the franchise record for 3-pointers with 24. But the most surprising development might be this — Murray, a 91.4 percent free throw shooter, missed two attempts for the first time since March of last season. What was his reaction when he misfired?

“I can’t say it on (TV),” he said with a smile.

4. Key stats. Denver has outscored its opponent in the fourth quarter in six consecutive games, and in nine of the last 12. This was also the Nuggets’ ninth road win of the season, and just their third over a team currently in the playoff picture. The other two came on that Portland-Golden State back-to-back right before Christmas, when the Trail Blazers did not have Damian Lillard and the Warriors did not have Stephen Curry. So one could easily argue that Thursday was Denver’s best road win of the season.

5. Weird stat. The Nuggets, a top-10 rebounding team, were topped 40-34 Thursday against a Bucks team that entered the contest ranked last in the NBA in that category. However, a team shooting 55.3 percent from the field generally leaves fewer opportunities to corral rebounds.

6. Hey now, you’re on the all-star break. Perhaps the Nuggets’ only legitimate concern about a week off is it could disrupt their momentum. But players and staffers will take advantage of the time away. Murray was already off to Los Angeles late Thursday for the Rising Stars Challenge and skills competition at All-Star Weekend. Malone said he’s going to Brekenridge to ski with the family. Jokic said his family “wants to go somewhere,” so he’ll tag along.

“I just told our guys we can’t go on break and just lie on a beach,” Malone said. “We have to stay mentally focused and do something physically. We only have 24 games coming out of the break. I love how we’re playing. I love how the chemistry is really coming together.”

7. On, Wisconsin. You have not lived until you have spent your Valentine’s Day flying to Milwaukee … and then trying to find somewhere to go out to dinner that is not catering to the couples of the universe.

8. Quotable. Murray on his 17 third-quarter points: “’Thrill’ (Will Barton) got hot. Gary (Harris) got hot. Trey (Lyles) got hot. Jok was hot. I said, ‘(Dang), I gotta get hot too.’”

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