For the second time already in this young season, the Denver Nuggets have been sucker-punched from having success.
Heading into Saturday night’s game at the Phoenix Suns, Denver had pieced together a three-game winning streak inside the Pepsi Center and was 5-4. Phoenix, however, quickly took care of any momentum the Nuggets had built by zipping out to a 60-28 halftime lead on its way to a 105-81 decision.
The first-half stats told a story and lit a fire under Denver head coach Michael Malone. The Nuggets put up 20 3-point shots (hitting just two of them) as part of their 11-of-50 shooting performance in the first half. Denver had one assist in the first half (yes, one) and was outrebounded 26-15.
“Young teams like us forget why we have had success,” an irritated Malone told reporters after the game. “Guys came out tonight with a ‘I’m going to get mine’ attitude. The selfish play in the first half was bothersome. In the first half, I’m not sure if one of our starters had an assist (they didn’t). That’s losing basketball.”
That thud heard throughout the Mountain Time Zone on Saturday night was Denver plummeting back to earth after achieving some early (and some might say surprising) success. It was strangely reminiscent of Denver’s first home game of the year when the Nuggets were listless in a 95-78 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves just two nights after Denver had started the season with a 20-point road victory over the Houston Rockets.
The Minnesota game is one that Malone still points back to as a low point for his team and references often in conversation. Saturday night’s loss to the Suns may be a “look-back moment” for the coach and his team the rest of the season as well.
“We took 35 3s in the game. We’re not a 3-point shooting team,” Malone said. “That’s a settling, soft mentality. There was no attack and we didn’t put pressure on the rim. It was a very bad outing for the Denver Nuggets all around.
“There are no excuses here. They kicked our (butts). Flat and simple.”
Will Barton was one of the few highlights of the night for the Nuggets, posting a season-high 19 points and 12 rebounds off the bench. It was also a milestone night for Barton as he surpassed the 1,000-point mark in his career.
Now the Nuggets must regroup with a tough stretch to end November ahead of them, beginning with a road back-to-back against the New Orleans Pelicans (Tuesday) and San Antonio Spurs (Wednesday). Denver follows that with four straight home games against the Suns, Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Clippers, and Spurs.
Malone gave his players Sunday off to regroup from the trip to Phoenix and rest before embarking upon the daunting stretch ahead. Even though it’s early in the season, it’s important for Denver to collect itself and quickly remember its sharing, attacking ways on offense before a tough end to November.