Defense, team play help drive Nuggets' early success

Denver winning tight games without aid of superstar

Intrigued by the unique storylines playing out at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, NBA TV has been collecting footage for a multi-episode series focusing on the Denver Nuggets.

If the producers are in need of a title, they might consider stealing one from the Discovery Channel.


Led by their old-school coach and a deep roster that blends youth and experience, the Nuggets (4-2) are off to a good start in their attempt to prove that it doesn’t take a ready-made superstar – or a trio of them – to be successful.

After getting meaningful contributions from 11 of the 15 players available to him during a stretch of five games in six days, Denver coach George Karl gave his team a well-deserved day off Tuesday.

The break came after the Nuggets dispelled the theory that they would need a go-to scorer to close out games.

Instead of relying on one guy, Denver erased fourth-quarter deficits against the Los Angeles Lakers and the Milwaukee Bucks by using its opportunistic team defense to create easy chances in transition.

The Lakers managed just 19 points in the fourth quarter Sunday and the Bucks scored 12 in the final 12 minutes Monday.

“Until we trade for a superstar, people are going to say we don’t have a closer,” Karl said before the Milwaukee game.

Roughly four hours later, Karl couldn’t resist another friendly jab at reporters: “Does that count as a fourth-quarter win or is that still not closing it out?”

With an abbreviated training camp, the Nuggets emphasized defense. Karl wanted his team to have solid foundations covering the pick-and-roll and denying penetration. Perhaps most importantly, he did not want the opposition scoring in transition.

Through their first six games, the Nuggets averaged a league-leading 12.5 steals and ranked a respectable 13th in field-goal defense (.448).

“If our defense stays strong, I think we’re okay,” Karl said. “I think we’re going to continue the commitment there. I’d be surprised if we don’t.”

Karl would also be surprised if his team continues to struggle from three-point range. After going 6-for-37 against Los Angeles and Milwaukee, the Nuggets are shooting .256 from beyond the arc. They are .524 from everywhere else on the floor.

Forward Danilo Gallinari is among those trying to find his long-range stroke (4-for-28), but he has done a good job finding other ways to score by running the floor in transition, attacking the rim in the half-court offense and getting to the foul line.

“I’m just trying to be aggressive, go to the free throw a lot, try to draw fouls,” Gallinari said. “When the three-ball is not going in, I’ve got to go to the basket and be effective.”

Karl has told his primary three-points shooters – Gallinari, Arron Afflalo (3-for-16), Rudy Fernandez (7-for-28) and Al Harrington (8-for-28) – to keep firing away as long as they keep getting open looks within the context of the offense.

“I haven’t seen that big-time shooting game from anybody (in the NBA),” Karl said. “I think there’s an awful lot of teams (9) shooting under 30 percent from the three-point line.

“In training camp, we don’t worry about shooting until about a week before they season and then you have a lot of shooting practices. You can tune-up the guys and have extra work with your shooters. We haven’t done that yet.”

After Wednesday night’s game against the Sacramento Kings, Karl and his coaching staff will have a shootaround and a full practice before the team plays back-to-back road games in New Orleans and San Antonio on Friday and Saturday.

Just another opportunity to keep busting the myths.

Aaron Lopez
Aaron J. Lopez is the primary writer for, providing behind-the-scenes content, including feature stories and video for the site. Before joining the Nuggets in 2009, he spent 15 years covering Colorado sports for the Rocky Mountain News and the Associated Press, making him one of the longest-tenured sports writers in Denver. Aaron's full bio...