Malone de­mand­ing bet­ter de­fen­sive play

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Gina Mizell

OR­LANDO, FLA.» Coach Michael Malone said he “slept like a baby” af­ter frankly as­sess­ing the Nuggets’ poor de­fen­sive per­for­mance in Wed­nes­day night’s 123-114 loss to the Pelicans in New Or­leans.

“I got up ev­ery two hours and cried,” Malone joked.

By Thurs­day af­ter­noon, though, the mood had turned light­hearted. A half-court shoot­ing com­pe­ti­tion capped the Nuggets’ prac­tice ses­sion at the Amway Cen­ter, where they play the Magic on Fri­day night, with bois­ter­ous laugh­ter fill­ing the arena as var­i­ous play­ers and staffers gave their best heave.

Den­ver has no room to dwell in the midst of this six-game road trip and over­all grind of a sea­son that is more than a quar­ter com­plete. But the Nuggets (13-11) also must learn from their mis­cues, par­tic­u­larly from the cracks on de­fense that keep pop­ping up while post­ing a 3-9 record away from the Pepsi Cen­ter.

“We are bet­ter than we are show­ing on the road,” said Malone, speak­ing in a much more re­served tone Thurs­day com­pared with his fiery postgame ses­sion Wed­nes­day. “That’s where my frus­tra­tion comes from. For that to change, every­body has to look at them­selves in­di­vid­u­ally first.”

The Nuggets en­tered Thurs­day ranked 28th in the NBA in

scor­ing de­fense away from home at 111.9 points al­lowed per game, 8.5 points more than they give up at home. But Wed­nes­day’s game rep­re­sented Den­ver’s most bla­tant dis­re­gard for per­son­nel ten­den­cies when guard­ing 1-on-1, Malone said, some­thing the coach­ing staff goes over sev­eral times on game-day film study and de­tailed scout­ing re­ports.

Malone also ac­knowl­edges the im­pact of the ab­sences of stand­out big men Paul Mill­sap (wrist surgery) and Nikola Jo­kic (sprained an­kle). Mill­sap, whom Malone does not ex­pect to re­turn un­til the all-star break “at the ear­li­est,” has a long rep­u­ta­tion as a stout de­fender. Jo­kic has im­proved on that end of the floor, even spend­ing a chunk of the sea­son as the NBA’s leader in de­fen­sive plus/mi­nus.

The stark dif­fer­ence be­tween DeMar­cus Cousins’ per­for­mances for New Or­leans in each matchup against the Nuggets is a prime ex­am­ple. Cousins scored 14 points last month while guarded by Jo­kic and Mill­sap, but he scored 40 on Wed­nes­day with­out ei­ther of them on the floor. Too many times, Malone said, Cousins drove to his pre­ferred right side and past the first de­fender, then had a free path to the bas­ket when no team­mate jumped over to help.

“With­out those two guys, it’s just kind of like we’re fall­ing apart on de­fense,” Malone said. “We’re giv­ing up (points in the) paint. We’re giv­ing up 3s. We’re giv­ing up ev­ery­thing.

“I just have such a hard time with that, be­cause I un­der­stand and be­lieve in how im­por­tant de­fense is. And I re­al­ize for us to ever be a good team — a real team — it has to start on the de­fen­sive end of the floor.”

Malone hopes that de­fen­sive shift comes Fri­day in Or­lando. Then maybe he will sleep like an adult — as in, through the night.

“It can’t con­tinue to be the same thing over and over and over,” Malone said. “Be­cause now we’re a bunch of freak­ing ma­ni­acs and we’re not learn­ing from our mis­takes. It’s kind of get­ting to that point al­ready.”

The AP

Trey Lyles tries to pass the ball to a Den­ver team­mate against DeMar­cus Cousins in New Or­leans on Wed­nes­day night. Cousins’ 40 points helped the Pelicans beat the Nuggets 123-114.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.