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Golden Nuggets: Trap game? Nope, Denver has turned a corner

Credit-Ron Chenoy/USA Today Sports

Nine nuggets for every second the result of this game was in doubt.

1. Trap game? Nope, not this year. The Nuggets no longer follow up dramatic wins over the reigning champs with duds against the scrubs. Michael Malone's ball club came out Tuesday against the Sacramento Kings and made light work of them. Denver led by seven points after one quarter, 13 points after two quarters and 24 points after three quarters. The final score: Nuggets 126, Kings 112.

2. A season ago, the Nuggets were among the most inconsistent teams in the NBA. They beat Portland and Oklahoma City three times and knocked off Golden State and San Antonio twice. But sprinkled in were losses to Sacramento, Atlanta, New York, Dallas and Memphis. Is it possible the Nuggets have turned a corner? They spanked the Suns by 28 last week and followed that up with a wire-to-wire win over the Kings.

"I think we’re executing the game plan on defense," Mason Plumlee said. "We’re taking away things that the other team does well. Our effort has been awesome to start the season."

3. A lot of digital ink has been spilled about Denver's defense this week, and for good reason. Because of a more aggressive scheme and, more importantly, better effort, the Nuggets held the Clippers, Suns and Warriors each to under 100 points. They got through those three unscathed even though their offense underperformed at times. There was no sputtering on offense against Sacramento. The Nuggets shot 51.5 percent from the field on their way to scoring a season-high 126. Eight Nuggets scored in double figures. The team's assist-to-turnover ratio (31 to 12) was indicative of how smooth things went.

"I thought our offense was really on point tonight," Malone said.

4. Gary Harris is working with some new ingredients this season. Spicy ones. Cayenne pepper so hot it leaves defenders begging for a glass of milk.

Harris has a filthy between-the-legs crossover in his arsenal now. He's got an improved behind-the-back move, too.

"He’s playing at another level right now," Plumlee said. "His stop and go, his pace. He’s a top tier athlete, but his pace — now he’s adding that to it."

The always steady Harris needed only 26 minutes to score 18 points. He attempted 12 shots and made eight of them. He could've gone for 30 plus, but the game was over by the time Malone subbed Harris out for good in the third quarter.

Harris is averaging 21 points per game on 50.8 percent shooting. He's putting those numbers up even though his 3-point shot hasn't fell at the rate it normally does. Once it does? Look out.

5. Contrary to popular belief, progress does not normally look like a straight line. Players take two steps forward, one step back and then one step forward again. Usually, it's squiggly. Harris is the exception. He's always improving a smidge. He's gone from a benchwarmer to a solid shooter/cutter to a solid shooter/cutter with elite finishing ability to all of that plus a guy with an excellent handle in five seasons.

"We put the ball in his hands a lot, and he’s worked a lot on his handle to play pick and roll, to play dribble handoff, to be able to break his man down one on one," Malone said. "Gary is a true pro. He works his butt off, and he comes back better every year."

So what's his ceiling?

"I don't know what the league's view of him is, but he could be an All-Star this season," Plumlee said. "And that is not really a reach.”

6. There's no debating which player deserves most of the credit for Denver's improved defense. Yes, it's been a collective effort. But no one is more valuable than Paul Millsap. The Nuggets outscored their opponents by 55 points with Millsap on the floor in their first three games. That was despite the fact that Millsap went 7-for-24 from the field.

Tuesday was a welcome sign for anyone who'd grown worried that Millsap couldn't get those bunnies to fall. Millsap scored 16 points on 6-for-10 shooting with zero turnovers. It was his cleanest, most complete offensive game of the young season.

"It’s good to see Paul Milsap get going and find a rhythm," Malone said. "He went at his matchup. He scored. If he can get into an offensive rhythm, it’s going to help us out."

7. Jamal Murray can heat up in a hurry. After a sluggish first half from his starting point guard, Malone made a concerted effort to go to him after halftime. That decision paid off. Murray caught fire, scoring 14 of his 19 points in the third.

It was a nice bounce-back effort after Murray went 0-for-9 against Golden State.

8. Monte Morris knows how to set them up, huh? A lot of times, Morris already knows what he's going to do with the ball before he gets it. Take this cross-court bullet to Torrey Craig, which resulted in a 3-point make.

Morris' solid play from the backup point guard spot continued. He handed out seven assists to zero turnovers, scored 11 points and came up with a steal. After three subpar efforts to start the season, Morris has found his footing as a member of the rotation.

9. The Nuggets are 4-0 for the first time since 2009-10. Shoutout to the fan at Pepsi Center who was wearing a gray poncho with "Juancho" stitched across the front.

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