3. Nuggets struggle to replace bench points
The Denver Nuggets have a top-10 bench this season, with their reserves averaging 39.1 points per game.
On Monday, in a 129-103 loss to the Detroit Pistons, the bench produced just 28 points — 20 of those coming from Trey Lyles.
The problem was that a big chunk of Denver’s second unit was playing as starters.
Monte Morris scored 18 points filling in at the point guard spot for injured Jamal Murray, Malik Beasley had 16 points starting for injured Gary Harris at the 2 and former Net Mason Plumlee dropped 15 points and 11 rebounds while playing for Paul Millsap.
As a result, the Nuggets’ bench was swamped, outscored 60-28 by Detroit’s reserves — a group that ranks just 23rd in the NBA at 33.5 points per game.
Harris is out again for Denver when they face the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday, while Murray and Millsap are questionable.
That could be a potentially very big problem for the Nuggets against the NBA’s No. 2-ranked reserve unit for the Nets.
Even with Spencer Dinwiddie sidelined, the reserves for Brooklyn have continued to thrive, averaging 52 points per game in the six games Dinwiddie has missed.
That’s actually up from their season average of 47.7 points per game off the bench, with that figure helped by the Nets putting up 59 points off the bench in their Jan. 29 win over the Chicago Bulls and 72 in a Jan. 25 victory over the New York Knicks.
Lyles had a big night against the Pistons, hitting 8-of-13 overall and 2-of-6 from 3-point range, but he has been very inconsistent this season, averaging 9.3 points in 18.9 minutes per game while shooting just 42.5 percent overall and 25.7 percent on 3.3 deep attempts a night.
If the Nuggets have to use a big chunk of their reserve punch with the first unit, that could slide a big advantage in the direction of the Nets, who should have Shabazz Napier back with the second unit with Joe Harris healthy.
Brooklyn may get extra bench punch if Allen Crabbe is able to make his return Wednesday night.
That could be the battle within the battle that swings the game.