One day after his Denver Nuggets won their first home game of the year with a 108-104 decision over the Portland Trail Blazers, Denver head coach Michael Malone was still using one of his favorite words to describe what he liked most during the win: energy.
If you talk to Malone enough, he will tell you about the importance of energy to his type of play and what he often refers to as “Denver Nuggets basketball.” However, after his Nuggets had finished practice in the midst of an early-season three-game homestand, the first-year Denver head coach admitted that his team faces an uphill battle when it comes to home-court advantage and gathering that elusive energy from the crowd.
“It’s hard to have a home-court advantage when you’re drawing around 9,000 a game,” Malone said. “There just isn’t much energy so we have to create our own energy. I believe the energy and the crowds will eventually come if we bring energy and effort every night.”
With just three home games under its belt, Denver ranks last in NBA attendance with 12,239 fans per contest. That’s about 63.9 percent of Pepsi Center capacity. Monday night’s crowd was sparse to say the least, with several sections having no one in them and an announced attendance of 9,153.
Denver is a sports city and it is a city that loves its Denver Broncos above all else. It’s also a city that loves winning and that’s something that has been missing from the Nuggets over the last two seasons as Denver has notched a 66-98 mark during that span. Last season was particularly rough with legal issues with Ty Lawson and internal issues between the team and then-head coach Brian Shaw.
However, the team has put forth a massive effort this season to proclaim it is “A New Day.” With the hiring of Malone and drafting of point guard Emmanuel Mudiay, the Nuggets are embracing the beginning of a new era … but convincing the fans may still take some time as Malone knows.
“There was a lot of excitement after the preseason and after we started the season with a win against Houston, but we came back home and opened against Minnesota and crapped the bed,” Malone said, referring to Denver’s lackluster 95-78 loss to the Timberwolves to kick off the home schedule. “It may be a new day, but that was a letdown for our fans. Our fans are waiting to see what we do. We have to do our part to go out there every night and grow that back.”
Malone believes strongly in the power of home-court advantage. After starting his head coaching career in Sacramento and already playing early-season games in Golden State and Oklahoma City, both known for their rabid fan base, Malone believes it’s vital that the Pepsi Center becomes a part of Denver’s advantage just as much as the altitude in the Mile High City.
“I’ve been in this league 15 years and I’ve seen how important home-court advantage and that energy is,” Malone said. “Even in Sacramento, where we didn’t have the best record, we were drawing 15,000 a night. We were the only game in town but the fans turned out. And by no means is this a knock on the fans of Denver. We have to do our part and play good basketball.”
For Malone, good basketball will not only equal wins but also more people in the seats when the Nuggets continue their quest to regain a spot in the Western Conference playoffs.
“I’m happy we got our first home-court win last night, but it’s more important how we played to get that first win,” Malone said. “We held Portland to 33 percent shooting in the second half and we had a lot of energy. We don’t have one guy who’s going to carry the load for us every night so we need a collective effort. I want our guys to play as hard as possible for 48 minutes. If they do that, people will see we’re doing things the right way and they’ll come back.”