NEW YORK — After the Denver Nuggets struggled down the stretch of a 116-110 loss to the New York Knicks on Saturday afternoon, giving the Western Conference leaders a fifth loss in their past six games, Nikola Jokic declared Denver needs to be concerned about how it’s currently playing.
“It is what it is,” said Jokic, who had 24 points, 10 rebounds and 8 assists in 37 minutes. “We need to be concerned. We need to try to win the next one.”
Denver will get a chance to do that 24 hours from now, when the Nuggets play a second straight New York City matinee across the East River at Barclays Center in Brooklyn against the Nets. But they’ll need to clean up some of the things that have consistently derailed them during their malaise over the past 11 days — specifically defense, rebounding and poor starts to games.
Since this slide began with a home loss to Chicago on March 8, Denver ranks dead last in the NBA in defensive efficiency and its opponents’ offensive rebounding rate has increased.
Both of those issues were a problem again Saturday, as the Knicks grabbed 15 offensive rebounds — including 7 by Mitchell Robinson alone — and scored 36 points in the first quarter to stake themselves to an early lead.
“Of course,” Jokic said, when asked if the rebounding issues are a problem. “Me first, and then everybody collectively, needs to do a better job of rebounding the ball, because even when we made a couple stops, we didn’t rebound and they just got easy ones. They had like 15 offensive rebounds, so that’s a lot. That’s 15 chances to score again.”
The 36 first-quarter points also highlighted another recurring issue for Denver: struggling to start games. The Nuggets have been the NBA’s best first-quarter team over the course of the season, outscoring teams by more than 11 points per 100 possessions. But over these past six games, Denver has been outscored by 5 points per 100 possessions and is giving up 130 points per 100 possessions.
But even after that sluggish start, the Nuggets outscored the Knicks 35-17 to end the first half and take the lead for the first time. When Denver’s lead ballooned to 13 early in the third quarter, it looked like the Nuggets had officially gotten over the hump.
But then New York went on a 20-7 run to end the third and simply outplayed Denver down the stretch — outscoring the Nuggets 12-5 in crunch time after Denver entered the final five minutes clinging to a one-point lead — to…
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