Nets Nuggets Basketball

Brooklyn Nets center Nic Claxton, left, pulls in a rebound as Denver Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. defends in the second half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, March 12, 2023, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

One of the starters' minutes were not like the others' Sunday at Ball Arena.

Nikola Jokic led the starting five with 39 minutes played in the 122-120 loss to the Nets. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope played 37:19. Aaron Gordon played over 29 minutes, while Jamal Murray played all 28:18 in the first three quarters before leaving the game with what the team called left knee soreness.

Then, there was Michael Porter Jr., who saw fewer than 23 minutes of court time. He didn’t know why he was the odd man out.

“Nah, I’m still trying to figure that out myself,” Porter said to a couple of reporters in the postgame locker room. “I’m not the coach, but I’m still trying to figure that one out myself.”

When asked about that disparity, Nuggets coach Michael Malone didn’t have much to say about Porter individually.

“He had a really good first half shooting the ball, but everybody in that third quarter played poorly,” Malone said. “It wasn’t just Michael Porter Jr. Everybody struggled when you get outscored 37-18. The group that was in there in the fourth played well. I rolled with that group.”

With Murray unavailable, Malone went with a more defensive focused group featuring Bruce Brown, Caldwell-Pope, Christian Braun, Gordon and Jokic for much of the fourth. The 21 seconds Porter played of the fourth quarter came in the final 30 seconds.

“(He) sat me the whole fourth and put me in with 20 seconds left, I think,” Porter said. “So, I mean it’s impossible to catch a rhythm then.”

Porter was certainly in a rhythm early. He made seven of his first nine shots in the first half, including a 3-of-4 mark from 3-point range, and had 19 points at halftime. He scored a couple more buckets in the third quarter to finish with 23 points in 22-plus minutes of playing time. The Nuggets won Porter’s minutes by six points, and he fought the notion that he struggled in his second-half minutes.

“How did I struggle? I shot three times, and I didn’t play,” Porter said. “I didn’t play in the fourth quarter, so I wouldn’t say I struggled. I shot three shots. I made two of them. I missed one shot, so I wouldn’t say I struggled. I would just say I didn’t play.”

The 24-year-old said he continues to feel better and better physically after missing a stretch of the season with a heel issue. He looked fine five minutes in when he cut for a poster dunk over Nets center Nerlens Noel. It was the second straight game Porter used his size and length to dunk over a defender. He was obviously frustrated as he fielded questions while sitting in front of his locker after the game.

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“Every team faces adversity,” Porter said. “You just got to face it head on and just not trip about it too long, move on to the next day and try to get better.”

Porter faced more adversity and fewer minutes than any other starter Sunday.

NETS 122, NUGGETS 120

What happened: One bad quarter cost the Nuggets for the second time this week.

Friday in San Antonio, it was the second quarter. At home Sunday against the Nets, it was the third quarter, which Brooklyn won 37-18.

Brooklyn led by as many as six in the first quarter, but the game was tied to start the second. The Nets outplayed Denver’s bench early in the second, creating a 10-point advantage before a dominant close from Michael Porter Jr., Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray gave the Nuggets a 69-61 halftime lead. Brooklyn scored at will throughout the third and led by 11 to start the fourth. Denver played its best defense in the fourth quarter, giving the Nuggets a shot to win the game at the buzzer, but Jokic’s 3-pointer was off target.

What went right: Christian Braun made the most of his limited minutes off the bench in the second half. In 11 minutes and 39 seconds of playing time, Braun made both of his attempts from the field, including a 3, and went 2 of 3 at the free throw line. The rookie added three rebounds, one assist and one block, could be in line for more playing time down the final stretch of the regular season.

What went wrong: Murray headed back to the locker room late in the third quarter with left knee soreness and did not return for the fourth. Nuggets coach Michael Malone did not have an update postgame. Murray missed a string of games before the All-Star break with right knee inflammation. The Nuggets also gave up 30 more points in each of the first three quarters.

Highlight of the day: It was a double-feature Sunday. Porter had another poster dunk, this one over Nerlens Noel. After Aaron Gordon grabbed an offensive rebound, Porter cut down the middle of the lane and threw down a one-handed slam. Murray also hit a deep 3 just before the halftime buzzer, but neither play provided enough momentum for the Nuggets to snap a three-game losing streak.

Up next: The Nuggets head north to start a five-game road trip in Toronto on Tuesday.

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