Nuggets Turn Up the Defense, Beat Kings 96-79 in Home Opener

For the defensive-minded Nuggets coach, this game could do nothing but make him smile. It was one of the best lockdown performances any of the teams he’s had in his three seasons with the Nuggets.

The Nuggets wore down the Sacramento Kings in a 96-79 victory in their home opener on Saturday night. It was a victory powered by defense, a relentless effort on the glass, and offense from a number of different players.

We’ll start with the defense.

The Nuggets held the Kings to 79 points, which is the second-lowest point total any Malone-coached Nuggets team has allowed. The lowest is 74 points, in a Nuggets 78-74 win over Minnesota on Jan. 6, 2016.

The Kings made just 36.9 percent from the field.

“We did a really good job of communicating, adhering to the game plan, and just getting stops and making it tough on guys,” Malone said. “So, I liked our discipline, I liked our defensive intensity.”

The Nuggets finished off a game full of good defensive possessions by clearing the defensive glass. That resulted in a major rebounding advantage, 58-39. Among those 58, 18 were offensive rebounds, and Wilson Chandler and Kenneth Faried were at the center of the Nuggets’ rebounding storm. The duo combined to grab 11 of those offensive rebounds, and 20 boards total. Chandler had 12, while Faried had eight.

“I thought Kenneth Faried was a game-changer tonight,” Malone said. “His energy off the bench was fantastic.”

Five Nuggets grabbed at least eight rebounds in the game.

On a night in which the Nuggets honored the legends whose banners hang from the Pepsi Center rafters, the current team gave the fans a gift as well. A win. And it was a win of the rarest kind for the Nuggets in the last two seasons. They’d been 0-13 in games in which they didn’t score 100 points last season. This season, they won in that scenario in their first try.

And all of this happened without and points from their star, Nikola Jokić. The big man did not score and took just three shots, but he contributed nine rebounds and seven assists to the cause.

“The best thing about Nikola is he’s not going to force it,” Malone said. “He had nine rebounds and seven assists. Didn’t score tonight, but he’s happy we won. That speaks to who he is as a young man, and the teammate that he is.”

Said Paul Millsap: “It shows how effective he is. You don’t have to score to be effective. There’s only certain guys in this league that can do that, him being one of those guys. It says a lot about who he is; he’s willing to sacrifice and try to get everyone else involved.”

Millsap and Faried led the Nuggets with 18 points apiece. Millsap added nine rebounds in his first game in front of the Pepsi Center crowd. Gary Harris added 17, and Will Barton finished with 15 points off the bench.

“I’m proud of our guys,” Malone said. “We still have a lot of things we can clean up and get better at. And we have a very good Washington team coming in, in two days.”

Christopher Dempsey: christopher.dempsey@altitude.tv and @chrisadempsey on Twitter.

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