The Nuggets want to win it all for Nikola Jokić, and better defense is the only way: Amick

The Nuggets want to win it all for Nikola Jokić, and better defense is the only way: Amick

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — You know what to say Denver Nuggets failed to live up to the high expectations of his longtime coach, Michael Malone?

Hear this message sent inside the locker room shortly after the last road game.

“The first bus is leaving (for the airport) in three minutes!” yelled a member of the team’s support staff shortly after Malone’s team blew a 19-point lead in a 127- 126 before the kings Wednesday night at the Golden 1 Center. “The coach is on the first bus!”

Translation: The coach is not happy.

In this world of the Nuggets where they have big plans to fight for titles for the rest Nikola Jokic‘s standout, and where the lackluster defensive effort that night sparked a familiar fury inside Malone as it eclipsed his ascension to the top of the Western Conference over the past two weeks, Malone’s choice to step up to the first bus out of town is always a clear sign that he is upset. As if his previous press conference had left any doubt.

As Malone had detailed to reporters, his frustration was compounded by the fact that his message in that morning’s team meeting had clearly not been heard. At the Kimpton Sawyer Hotel where they were staying and where they gathered in a ballroom to discuss the game plan for the second game of the series against Sacramento, the Nuggets were the type of defensive before and after . statistics he hoped would inspire them to maintain the recent momentum.

It showed them how bad they had been during a 14-10 start (26th in defensive rating) and how good they had been winning eight of nine games since then (ninth). He highlighted their defensive rating during their five-game winning streak (second) and how they had the best defensive rating in the league. during clutch time for the season He also dug deeper into the defensive stats while making it clear that his potential far outweighed the overall results to that point (23rd in defensive rating at the time).

The message was clear: we have the personnel, and the coach, to be a good defensive team. And then … they proceeded to give up 30-plus points in three of four quarters while letting the Kings hit 13-of-18 shots in the final period.

“Literally this morning, on a big screen and in that ballroom (I told them that) that’s why we’re winning,” Malone said. “And we come out here tonight and we don’t guard anybody. … They shot 72 percent in the fourth quarter. Shhh-seventy-two percent!”

It wasn’t just one game, either. This was a bigger speech if ever there was one, with Malone’s level of exasperation rising as it went on.

“This is not a mistake,” Malone said. “So it’s just understanding that. And yes, I know there wasn’t Jamal Murray (knee), there was none Aaron Gordon (shoulder), there was none Bruce Brown (ankle). Jeff Green (hand) continues outside. And what? do your job Stand up for. Have some resistance. And tonight, obviously, we didn’t have that. … I’m very disappointed with the fact that we lost without playing any defense for three quarters. It is a valuable lesson to be learned if we are willing to see it that way.”

When it comes to the Association’s elite teams, evidence is a critical part of the process. And when there’s a setback of any kind, you don’t allow yourself the luxury of celebrating previous progress. Herein lies the challenge for these Nuggets.

With Jokić playing even better than in his back-to-back MVP seasonsGordon playing at an All-Star level and Murray and Michael Porter Jr. Back in the fold after missing out last season, can they build on all that continuity and really challenge for the crown? Or, as some league skeptics might suggest, are they destined to be a very good regular season team that folds early in the playoffs?

After spending two days around the Nuggets in Sacramento this week, this much is clear: Internally, there is a strong sense that Jokić’s brilliance demands nothing less than title contention, as soon as possible and preferably from here a few months. The Nuggets rightly see him in the same vein as a Steph Curry or the Tim Duncan type, the type of generational talent whose greatness should be honored and maximized to the fullest.

And after signing him to a five-year, $264 million supermax extension this past summer, it has become their shared mission to make the most of their presence in championship form. The open element of this season should make it seem even more possible, as the West is in play (five games separate the top 10 teams) and the East has plenty of parity among the elite (4 games and half separate the first five). But if they’re going to get there, it’s the defense, as Malone made so clear, that simply has to improve.

“Oh, there’s no question (these Nuggets have) the potential (to be a good defensive team),” Malone said when I asked about his outlook on the staff. “Like I said, being first in the West and beating some really good teams lately because of our defense (is a good sign). So if you can do that for nine games … with the schedule we’ve had, that shows. If you can have the number one clutch defense at N.B.Ait shows.”

That statement alone is a credit to first-year Nuggets general manager Calvin Booth. After Tim Connelly’s departure to Minnesota in May, Booth, the former NBA player who spent the previous five seasons as Denver’s assistant general manager, was elevated to the Nuggets’ top job. Extending Jokić was the biggest move, of course, but he wasted little time reshaping the roster beyond its core from there.

The addition of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, via trade with Washington for Mount Morris i Will Barton in late June, it has paid off so far by raising his defensive ceiling. Ditto for the early July signing of Brown. Great veteran man DeAndre Jordan, which was signed in mid-July, has been underwhelming. There will probably be more too.

With the Feb. 9 trade deadline looming, league sources say the Nuggets will be looking for wing help to come off their bench. They want to be longer, more athletic, versatile, defensive-minded and bigger in that department. Gordon trades with Orlando in March 2021 it continues to pay big dividends, and adding another player with those kinds of skills would be the dream scenario here.

Philosophically, the Nuggets firmly believe that while offense will always be there with this Jokić-led group, defense is their hallmark. His own history, detailed below courtesy of, bears this out (last season is excluded due to the absences of Murray and Porter).

2020-21: 11th in defense; sixth in offense (47-25, .653 winning percentage; lost West Semis)
2019-20: 16th in defense; fifth in offense (46-27, .630; lost West final)
2018-19: 10th in defense; seventh in offense (54-28, .659; lost West Semis)
2017-18: 23rd in defense; sixth in offense (46-36, .561; no playoffs)

However, even so, there is a clear consensus here that this group is more than capable of making the necessary leap. As long as Malone gets back on the later buses, that is, they’ll be fine.

“I mean, if we say we’re good (defensively), we’re wrong,” Jokić said. “We can’t outplay them, like we did today (against the Kings). We’ve got to get the defense consistent, every day. . . . So that’s something we’ve got to focus on. We’ve just got to figure out what the problem is and find a solution”.

(Top photo: Kavin Mistry/Getty Images)

#Nuggets #win #Nikola #Jokić #defense #Amick

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