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Three things to know: Don’t let one ice-cold quarter fool you, Denver is legit

The NBA season is into its second half, and we will be here each weekday with the NBC Sports daily roundup Three Things to Know — everything you might have missed in the Association, every key moment from the night before in one place.

1) Don’t let one ice-cold quarter fool you, Denver is legit

For eight games and 34 minutes — since Aaron Gordon first stepped on the court in a Denver uniform after the trade deadline — the Nuggets have looked like a legit contender. A team that could come out of the West.

Don’t let their weird, ice-cold 14 minutes of basketball Sunday change that opinion. Denver hasn’t earned championship favorite status, but they have earned “this team has a legit chance” status.

About those final 14 minutes — Boston finished the game on a 36-8 run (31-3 at one point) to win going away 105-87 Sunday. Denver scored just eight points in the fourth quarter.

The 14 minutes was nothing like what had come before it. Denver was in control of the game and was up by 14 points with two minutes to go in the third quarter, and still up 10 a minute later when Jokic went to the bench for his usual rest.

Then the Denver bench fell apart/Boston’s reserves took over (depending on the narrative you prefer… but for my money, this was more about the Nuggets playing ugly basketball). By the end of the third quarter, it was just a five-point Nuggets lead.

Boston’s run continued at the start of the fourth, and a frustrated Mike Malone chose not to call a timeout. He just rode with a struggling bench unit. Jokic eventually returned to the game but quickly fell into one of his old and bad habits — he didn’t get a call he wanted, and his focus went to barking at the officials rather than playing the game. Malone ended up pulling Jokic with just fewer than five minutes left and the game still within reach (14 points). Malone knew his team was on the first night of a back-to-back and was looking ahead.

Whatever you do, don’t let that weirdness detract from the fact Denver is playing like a legit contender.

In their past eight games (including Sunday’s loss), the Nuggets have a +11 net rating and a top 10 NBA offense and defense — all signs of a contender (stats via Cleaning the Glass). More than just the numbers, the offensive flow for the Nuggets is smoother as all four other regular starters — Will Barton, Michael Porter Jr., Gordon, and Jamal Murray (who was out for his fourth straight game Sunday with a sore knee) — are able to space the floor, run dribble hand-off plays, or make cuts to the rim when Jokic has the ball. This is a team with a lot more offensive versatility now in their top five, and it has the MVP frontrunner in Jokic.

It’s fair to wonder if their bench can hold up deep in the playoffs and if they have enough talent overall. But make no mistake, the Nuggets are contenders and could come out of the West.

2) Miles Bridges obliterates Clint Capela with Dunk of the Year candidate

My vote right now for the Dunk of the Year leader probably still goes to Anthony Edwards… but Charlotte’s Miles Bridges has made his case. And it’s a good one.

Bridges went over and through Clint Capela on Sunday for a monster dunk.

That led to the Tweet of the day.

It was a good day for Bridges, who finished with 23 points, but it wasn’t enough as Atlanta got a 105-101 win despite Trae Young sitting out, thanks to 32 points from the surging Bogdan Bogdanovic.

3) DeMar DeRozan can still beat you from the midrange

There was high drama in Dallas Sunday, and one of the better final :30 seconds of a game we have seen this season.

It started when Luka Doncic passed up a three to drive into the paint, where he threw up an off-balance, leaning one-hander — which, of course, he made. He’s Luka.  That tied the score at 117-117 with 19.4 seconds left — plenty of time for DeMar DeRozan to get to his spot in the midrange and call ballgame.

With that shot, the Spurs beat the Mavericks 119-117, with DeRozan scoring 33. Kristaps Porzingis had 31 for Dallas, Doncic scored 29 and added seven assists.

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