When the Denver Nuggets beat the Houston Rockets by 20 points on the road to open the season, fans and media alike were quick to overreact, proclaiming the Nuggets better than expected and ahead of projections. Two days later, those same expectations and thoughts were quickly vanquished inside the Pepsi Center.
Denver opened the home portion of its 2015-16 NBA schedule with a listless performance, falling to the Minnesota Timberwolves 95-78 in front of 17,660 fans. In all, the Nuggets hit just 29-of-95 shots (30.5 percent) and struggled to get any kind of offensive rhythm against their Northwest Division foes.
“I’m not taking anything away from Minnesota, but we came out with no sense of urgency,” an agitated Denver head coach Michael Malone said after the game. “We were very flat and had no pace and no purpose. The team we saw in Houston we didn’t see tonight.”
Denver (1-1) found itself down by 10 at the end of the first half and relied on its reserves to try to make a second-half comeback. Malone benched his starting unit in favor of players such as Will Barton, Jameer Nelson, and Mike Miller to try to find a spark, but the Nuggets could pull no closer than nine points in the fourth quarter. The starting unit was held to just 48 points, including Emmanuel Mudiay’s team-high 15 points.
“I was searching the bench for guys who would want to go out and play hard,” Malone said. “The starters didn’t play hard enough. Where was the energy? I thought we took a step backwards tonight.”
Denver simply had no answer for Minnesota rookie center Karl-Anthony Towns. The top overall pick of the 2015 NBA draft finished with 28 points and 14 rebounds. He was also a polarizing presence on defense, blocking four shots and altering several others as the Timberwolves improved to 2-0 on the young season.
“Tonight, he showed why he is one of the best young bigs in the league,” Malone said.
Leading up to the home opener, Denver players and coaches had hoped to show fans that this was indeed “A New Day” for the organization as the promotions had indicated. However, boos broke out midway through the fourth quarter and many fans left early. After the game, Malone said he understood their frustration.
“If I’m a fan, I’ll be patient if you play hard,” he said. “We have to give our fans something to be patient about. We’re a young team, but the energy and effort have to be a constant. It wasn’t there tonight.”
Denver returns to action on Sunday, continuing Northwest Division play with a road date against the Oklahoma City Thunder.