In the wake of a 122-107 loss Thursday to the previously winless New Orleans Pelicans, coach Michael Malone didn’t have many compliments to offer his Denver Nuggets. To Malone, Denver’s effort on defense and in transition were particularly tough to watch.
“I’m embarrassed,” Malone said at his postgame news conference, per Andrew Lopez of ESPN.com. “That was an embarrassing effort defensively. Gave up 37 fast-break points. You can give all the transition defense rules that you want. To me, transition defense boils down to one thing — effort. Get back. You can tell them. You can lead a horse to water, whatever analogy you want to use. We did not get back.”
The Nuggets trailed by as many as 22 points on Thursday and saw their starters get outscored 86-48 as well. The Pelicans’ defensive performance — particularly against Jokic, the reigning first-team All-NBA center — helped them end their early-season struggles in which they allowed at least 123 points in each of the first four games.
Denver is 3-2 and not quite looking like the Western Conference contender many picked them to be in the preseason. Malone went off on the notion of his team and expectations for them as well.
“We’re a great talk team,” Malone said, per Mike Singer of The Denver Post. “We can talk before the season starts about all the things we want to accomplish, and we want to be a championship contending team. It’s all (bogus). Don’t tell me about it, show me. And right now we’ve got a lot of guys that aren’t showing me much. And just care. I know you’re going to make a mistake. Just show me that you care.”
With 7:53 left in the fourth quarter and the Nuggets down by 19 points, Malone called a timeout. On the next offensive possession after that timeout, Pelicans center Jahlil Okafor got a steal off a bad pass by Jamal Murray and took it in for a layup.
From there, Malone went to his bench and immediately replaced four members of his starting lineup and emptied his bench minutes later.
“I thought our starting group struggled. I thought they were low energy,” Malone said. “We were lucky to be down by four at halftime, and they come out and punch us in the mouth to start that third quarter.”
Jokic, however, thought the Nuggets’ were simply outworked.
“Sometimes it’s communication, sometimes it’s effort, sometimes it’s just the turnovers,” Jokic said of the fast-break points, per ESPN. “It’s not just effort.”
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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