Sound­ing alarm for abysmal play

Malone disturbed by play­ers’ lack of fire

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Christo­pher Dempsey Christo­pher Dempsey: cdempsey@den­ver­post.com or @chrisadempsey

As Nuggets coach Michael Malone sees it, his team’s prob­lems in the just-com­pleted road trip, in which they fin­ished 2-4, stem from one thing: a lack of com­pet­i­tive­ness.

Where the ero­sion of com­pet­i­tive­ness started is de­bat­able. The re­sult of it, how­ever, con­jured a word that is clear to un­der­stand. Alarm­ing. “The dis­con­cert­ing thing about the road trip … is the fact that we got down 29 points to Brook­lyn be­fore cut­ting it to three; the fact that we got down 25 or 26 to Dal­las,” Malone said Wed­nes­day. “To me, it’s alarm­ing be­cause that is a warn­ing sign or an omi­nous sign of a lack of com­pet­i­tive na­ture and fire.”

The Nuggets are in a dan­ger­ous place. At 9-16, they are closer to the bot­tom team in the West­ern con­fer­ence — 6-18 Dal­las — than to the eighth play­off spot, cur­rently held by their next op­po­nent: Port­land (13-14). There are tan­gi­ble is­sues to solve: turnovers, poor shoot­ing, etc. None of that, how­ever, has a chance of chang­ing un­less ev­ery­one gets emo­tion­ally back in check and re­turns to the fo­cus the Nuggets had in train­ing camp, the pre­sea­son and through the first three to four weeks of the reg­u­lar sea­son.

“I know what the NBA is like,” for­ward Danilo Gal­li­nari said. “It’s a marathon. You can’t get too high, too low. You’ve got to play it game by game. We’re just in De­cem­ber. You’ve still got Jan­uary, Fe­bru­ary, March, April. I don’t want these guys to feel like it’s Fe­bru­ary right now. It’s a long sea­son.”

And yet Gal­li­nari ac­knowl­edges

PORT­LAND AT DEN­VER Spot­light on Mau­rice Hark­less:

the Nuggets’ con­fi­dence is “not where it should be.”

“But hope­fully, if we can get some more wins, the con­fi­dence will go back up,” he said.

Chem­istry has been an is­sue. Play­ing time has been doled out in fits and starts, which is frus­trat­ing to the ath­letes. Malone has had to tinker with the lineup much more than he ever wanted be­cause of in­jury and in­con­sis­tency, which is frus­trat­ing to him.

In 25 games, the Nuggets al­ready have had 10 dif­fer­ent start­ing line­ups.

Malone hinted that more changes are afoot. Gary Har­ris, who has missed 20 of the 25 games with in­juries, is ex­pected to re­turn to the lineup Thurs­day against Port­land. A big­ger role for cen­ter Nikola Jo­kic is on the hori­zon.

Vet­eran Ken­neth Faried has re­ceived the brunt of the lineup changes of late. These were his minute to­tals on the road trip: 28, 12, 0, 11, 23 and 7. Malone said he ex­plained the sit­u­a­tion to Faried, who said it was “hard to say” if that ex­pla­na­tion was sat­is­fac­tory to him.

“It’s just bas­ket­ball,” Faried said. “I just fo­cus on what I can do. All I can do is just stay in the gym and try to get bet­ter.”

That said, ev­ery­one re­ported hav­ing a spir­ited prac­tice Wed­nes­day.

“It was a great prac­tice,” Faried said. “Guys got af­ter it. Guys stepped up, and we all just em­braced it. We needed a hard prac­tice. We know what we need to do com­ing into (Thurs­day’s) game, so that’s what we’re try­ing to do.” 7 p.m. Thurs­day, ALT, 950 AM,

Damian LIl­lard and C.J. McCol­lum are known quan­ti­ties for Port­land, but who is the team’s third-lead­ing scorer? That would be Hark­less, the fifthyear for­ward who is turn­ing in a solid sea­son af­ter sign­ing a four-year, $40 mil­lion con­tract last sum­mer to stay in Port­land. His 12.5 points per game are a ca­reer high and six more per game than he av­er­aged last sea­son. Hark­less is also aver­ag­ing ca­reer highs in re­bounds (5.3) and shoot­ing per­cent­age (49.2).

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