SACRAMENTO, Calif. — You know how the Denver Nuggets know they haven’t lived up to longtime coach Michael Malone’s lofty expectations?

This message can be heard being sent inside the locker room right after the latest road game.

“The first bus leaves (to the airport) in three minutes!” said Malone’s team after a 19-point lead over the Kings at Golden Stadium on Wednesday night, when they lost 127-126. cried a member of the support staff. 1 center. “There’s a coach on the first bus!”

原文: The coach is not happy.

In this world of the Nuggets, there are grand plans to compete for titles for the rest of Nikola Jokic’s stellar prime, and that night’s lackluster defensive effort sparked a familiar outrage among Malone, making him one of the Western Conference’s best players of the past. Malone’s choice to hop on the first bus out of town two weeks later is always a clear sign that he’s unhappy. As if his previous press conference had left doubts.

As Malone detailed to reporters, his frustration was compounded by the fact that his message at the team meeting that morning apparently wasn’t heeded. Kimpton Sawyer, where they stayed The Nuggets, who met in the ballroom at the hotel to discuss game plans for the second game of back-to-back sets against Sacramento, were shown some sort of back-and-forth defense…the stats he wanted. hoped to inspire them to maintain their recent momentum.

He showed them how bad they started 14-10 (26th in ERA) and how good they have been since then (9th) while winning 8 of 9 games. . He spotlighted his defensive rating during his five-game winning streak (second time) and how he got the league’s best defensive rating in clutch time for the season. He also delves deeper into his defensive stats, revealing that his potential far outstrips his overall results up to that point (23rd in defensive ratings at the time).

The message was clear. We need people and coaching to be a great defensive team. And then…they let the Kings hit 13 of 18 shots in the final period while he started giving up 30+ points in 3 of 4 quarters.

“Literally this morning on the big screen and in that ballroom (I told them) this is why we’re winning,” Malone said. Hmm…they got 72% in Q4.Ssss-72%!

It wasn’t just one game either. It was a big-picture speech, and Malone’s anger levels rose as he continued.

“It’s not a mistake,” Malone said. “So just figure it out. Out So what?Do your job.Defend.There’s a little resistance.And tonight, obviously, we didn’t have it. It’s a lesson worth learning if we’re going to look at it that way.”

When it comes to the Association’s elite teams, details are an important part of the process. Also, if there are any setbacks, there is no time to celebrate progress. Therein lies the challenge of these nuggets.

Jokic has played better than back-to-back MVP seasons, Gordon has played at All-Star level, and Murray and Michael Porter Jr. are back in the fold after missing last season. Are you really fighting for the crown? Or, as some skeptics in the league suggest, are they destined to be a very good regular-season team that succumbs early in the playoffs?

After spending two days with the Nuggets in Sacramento this week, it’s clear: Internally, there’s a strong sense that Jokic’s brilliance demands nothing more than a title fight — as soon as possible, preferably in a few months. It is a generational talent whose greatness must be celebrated and maximized.

And after signing him to a five-year, $264 million supermax extension this summer, it became their shared mission to make the most of his presence in championship form. That the elements of this season are wide open is because the West is up for grabs (dividing the top 10 teams with his 5 games) and the East has enough parity among the elite. (Top 5 in 4 1/2 matches). But if they’re going to get there, it’s the defense that has to improve, as Malone articulated.

“Oh, there’s no question that (these Nuggets) have the potential (to be a great defensive team),” Malone said when I asked about his views on personnel. “Like I said, it’s because of our defense that we’re leading the West and have beaten some really good teams lately (a good sign. So we’ve done that in nine games. If I can do it…with my schedule so far, it shows it.If I can be the number one clutch defense in the NBA, it shows it.”

Credit to Nuggets general manager Calvin Booth for that statement alone. After Tim Connery moved to Minnesota in his May, Booth — a former NBA player who spent the past five seasons as Denver’s assistant his general manager — has moved to the Nuggets’ top front office. promoted to the position of Of course, extending Jokic was the most important move, but he spent little time reshaping the roster from there beyond the core.

The addition of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who was traded to Washington for Monte Morris and Will Burton in late June, has paid off so far while raising the defensive ceiling. is signed by Brown. Veteran big man DeAndre Jordan, who signed in mid-July, is underwhelming.

With the trade deadline looming on Feb. 9, league sources say the Nuggets are seeking wing help from the bench. They want to be longer, more athletic, versatile, defensively minded and bigger in that department. , adding another player with such a skill set is a dream scenario here.

Philosophically, the Nuggets are a firm believer that while offense is always present in this Jokic-led group, defense makes the difference. Their own history, detailed below, courtesy of NBA.com, bears this out (they were ruled out last season due to the absence of Murray and Porter).

2020-21: 11th in defense. Sixth offense (47-25, .653 winning percentage; lost in West semifinals)

2019-20: 16th in defense. 5th on offense (46-27, .630; lost in West Finals)

2018-19: 10th in defense. He’s 7th on offense (54-28, .659, lost West Semifinals)

2017-18: 23rd in defense. 6th on offense (46-36, .561; no playoffs)

Still, there’s a clear consensus that the group is more than capable of making the leap it needs. As long as Malone can get on the later bus again, I mean, they’ll be fine.

“I mean, if we say we’re good[defensively]we’re wrong,” Jokic said. “You can’t beat them like today[against the Kings]. You have to maintain a certain level of defense every day. You have to find out what’s wrong and fix it.”

(Top photo: Kavin Mistry/Getty Images)


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