Brooklyn Nets forward Mikal Bridges, front, drives to the basket...

Brooklyn Nets forward Mikal Bridges, front, drives to the basket as Denver Nuggets forward Aaron Gordon defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game Thursday, Dec. 14, 2023, in Denver. Credit: David Zalubowski

DENVER — There weren’t many positives to take from the Nets’ 124-101 loss to the Nuggets on Thursday night. But there weren’t many indictments either.

When the schedule was released, this was a game that fans probably felt could be a loss. Not just because the Nets faced the defending NBA champions in the second game of a back-to-back but because of the always difficult task of traveling to Denver with little rest at high altitude.

That combo produced one of the Nets’ worst games of the season. Yet it’s not all bad because in the big picture, it’s another lesson this road trip has taught this group.

The Nets have had good defensive spurts, including in their win over Phoenix the previous night. They held the Nuggets to 52 points in the first half. But losses to the Nuggets and Kings reminded the Nets they’re still a level below contending teams.

The Nets have played nine games against teams with a top-five record in either conference. Their only wins were two against Orlando.

Progress remains incremental instead of drastic. That’s how coach Jacque Vaughn saw it after Wednesday, when he praised the Nets’ pace during this trip.

“We can play fast against these Western teams and play multiple lineups where we can shoot 40 threes like we did the other night,” Vaughn said. “That’s possible. We can do that again versus Golden State, versus Utah. The ability to play with each other and have different lineups out there and still be able to be OK on both ends of the floor. I think we’ve proven we can do that.”

It’s another reminder that the Nets will have more incremental growth than fans are used to recently. When teams aren’t contending, it’s gaining small victories like consistent play or Mikal Bridges growing more comfortable in the clutch.

After two tough losses, the trip gets easier. On Saturday night, the Nets will face a Golden State team in flux after losing four of its last five games and dealing with Draymond Green’s indefinite suspension. On Tuesday, they will play the Jazz, who have the fourth-worst record in the Western Conference.

Both are favorable matchups. The Nets (13-11) have thrived despite injuries and have dominated teams with losing records, as they’re 7-2 against teams under .500.

Against winning teams? There’s still something missing. Beating the Suns in Kevin Durant, Bradley Beal and Devin Booker’s first game together was good, but that wasn’t that group’s best or final form.

Two wins against Orlando, which entered Friday tied for third in the East, was good, but while the Magic have improved, time will tell if they’re real contenders.

The Nets remain in search of that signature win against a top team. But even if it doesn’t come on this trip, there’s still progress to celebrate. That’s where the Nets are, and they still can find growth if they end their trip on a high note.

“In regards to how you think about this trip, you would feel that this would probably be a scheduling loss and that we’re 1-1,” Spencer Dinwiddie said after Thursday’s loss to the Nuggets. “If we close out 3-2 with this one being one of the ones we dropped, then it’s probably a pretty successful trip.”

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