Home opener presents new opportunity for Nuggets

Denver focused on getting first victory after difficult road trip
by Aaron Lopez

In 2004, New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter started the season in un-Jeter-like fashion.

Looking like a rookie straight out of Greensboro, Jeter collected 16 hits in his first 95 at-bats for a .168 average, prompting everyone from fans to reporters to taxi drivers to wonder what the heck happened to the Yankee captain.

As it turned out, the slump wasn’t a sign of the apocalypse, nor was it an indication of things to come for Jeter and New York. He went on to hit .396 in June and .292 for the season as the Yankees advanced to the American League Championship Series.

Like Jeter eight years ago, the Denver Nuggets are remaining calm and preaching patience after going 0-3 during a difficult road trip to open the 2012-13 season. They will try to get their first win Tuesday night when they open their home schedule against the Detroit Pistons (0-3).

“I've been on teams where we started out really slow,” Nuggets swingman Andre Iguodala said after practice Monday. “We're not panicking at all. Just continue to do the things we've been doing well and fix the things we've been doing wrong.”

Through three games, the Nuggets have yet to be consistent at both ends of the floor for 48 minutes.

They defended well in Philadelphia but struggled with turnovers and missed shots. They fell behind by 20 points in the first half at Orlando before making a run in the second half. They played with confidence and energy against the defending champion Miami Heat but gave up 119 points in a game that came down to the final seconds.

“The first 32 games of the season, we’re probably not going to have this flamboyant record that’s going to knock people out,” Denver coach George Karl said. We have to figure out how to win games . . . and the last six quarters we’ve played, we’ve played very well.

“Our offense seemed to come around in Miami. They see what they need to do. We need some home cooking to get us on a winning streak.”

Since the start of the 2007-08 season, only the Los Angeles Lakers have a better home record (157-43) than the Nuggets (153-44). With 17 of 23 games away from Pepsi Center, Denver must make the most of its advantage at altitude.

“There’s an energy in our building and (there) has been since I’ve been here,” Karl said. “I think everybody understands of our first 10 home games, we’d like to win 9 or 10 of them just to sustain the (difficulty of the) road.”

Tuesday will mark the regular-season home debut for Iguodala, who spent his first eight seasons in Philadelphia before coming to Denver in a four-team trade on Aug. 10. Iguodala made 9-of-15 shots and nearly carried the Nuggets to victory with 22 points Saturday in Miami.

“I’m interested to see the atmosphere,” Iguodala said. “Guys are going to be really amped up . . . The main thing is to get the win. We've got 41 times to show (the fans) different things, the different weapons we have on our team. Tomorrow I'm looking forward to taking care of business.”

Iguodala is typically the last Nuggets player off the court after practice, but that distinction belonged to teammate Danilo Gallinari on Monday.

After missing the season-opener with a sprained ankle, Gallinari went a combined 8-for-31 against Orlando and Miami, including 3-of-18 from 3-point range. He spent nearly 90 minutes after practice shooting 3s from five spots around the arc.

“We wanted to start a different way for sure, but it’s very early in the season,” Gallinari said after his extended workout. “Like we said in the meeting this morning, we had a good second half against Orlando and a good game against Miami, so that’s good progress. We have to show that tomorrow.”

Denver is expected to be at full strength for the first time Tuesday. Center Timofey Mozgov did not play during the road trip, but he practiced fully Monday and Karl said he should be available against the Pistons.