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The Denver Nuggets are still the heavy favorites to be the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, but their cruise through the regular season has hit some rough water. On Sunday, their furious late comeback attempt against the Brooklyn Nets fell short, as they dropped their third consecutive game, which equals their longest losing streak of the season. 

While they certainly aren't at panic stations, it does appear that some frustration is building. Michael Porter Jr., who finished with 23 points, three rebounds and four assists on 9-of-13 from the field, didn't play in the fourth quarter of the loss to the Nets until the final 23 seconds, and took a jab at head coach Michael Malone after the game. 

"[Malone] 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."

Malone was asked directly what went into the decision to sit Porter in the fourth. To little surprise, it ultimately came down to defense. 

"[Porter] had a really good first half shooting the ball, but everybody in the third quarter played poorly, wasn't just Michael Porter Jr.," Malone said. "Everybody struggled when you get outscored 37-18. Then the group that was in there in the fourth quarter played well. I rode with that group. I thought Christian Braun's energy -- in 11 minutes, seven points, three rebounds and had some really good defensive possessions. When you're down like we were, you're looking for a spark, you're looking for somebody to give you some life, and I thought Christian did that.

"Listen, last three games our defense has been non-existent. I'm looking for guys that can guard. Christian has shown all year long, any chance he's been given to play, he's gone out there and done that."

The fourth-quarter benching continued what has been a rough stretch for Porter. In the first two games of the losing streak he had 12 points on 13 shots in their loss to the Chicago Bulls, and was ejected for grabbing Zach Collins' throat during the defeat to the San Antonio Spurs

Porter is not a good defender and has played a part in the Nuggets' struggles on that side of the ball, both recently and throughout the season. However, he's far from the only issue, and it was surprising to see Malone single him out in this way, especially given the night he was having shooting the ball. It also highlights a major concern for as the Nuggets try to get back on track ahead of the playoffs. 

Porter is the team's third-leading scorer, and is putting up 17.1 points and 5.3 rebounds per game on 49.1/41.2/80.8 shooting splits. He's the best high-volume 3-point shooter on a team that's 23rd in the league in three-point attempts per game (31.4), and in his 50 appearances this season, the Nuggets are 14-3 when he reaches 20 points and 20-13 when he does not. 

In short, they reallly need the shooting threat he provides, but it's clear Malone doesn't trust his defense. So what happens come playoff time when both of those aspects of the game become more important than ever? That dilemma, which applies to a lesser extent to Nikola Jokic, is one of the main reasons many aren't sold on the Nuggets as a true contender despite their strong regular season showing.