All-Star break offers Nuggets time to rest, regroup

Denver in need of improved defense, better health in second half
by Aaron Lopez

On the outside of the Western Conference playoff race at the All-Star break, the Denver Nuggets are in need of a reboot. For a historical reference, they don’t have to look very far.

The Nuggets (24-27) are under .500 at the break for the first time since 2005, when they stood at 24-29 following a disappointing road loss in Charlotte. After some needed rest, Denver responded with an eight-game win streak and went on to secure the No. 7 seed in the West.

Following a winless four-game road trip, the Nuggets are hoping that some time off will lead to improved results again this season.

“I think (the All-Star break) gives us a chance to press the reset button, kind of get away for a little bit and re-evaluate ourselves individually and as a team,” forward/center J.J. Hickson said.

“We have to play for each other. We know that Coach is our leader and we have to do a better job of going out and executing the game plan.”

More specifically, the defensive game plan.

After surrendering an average of 119.8 points during their road trip, the Nuggets are 27th in the NBA in scoring defense (104.5 ppg). Only the Philadelphia 76ers (108.9) and Los Angeles (105.4) are more generous.

“There’s no one person that we can pinpoint,” Denver coach Brian Shaw said. “We’re getting torched by everybody, from the beginning of the game to the end of the game. A lot of that is on us as a coaching staff, just trying to figure out what’s going to work for us, matchup-wise and activity-wise.”

In addition to improving their defense, the Nuggets will use the four-day break to get healthy – or at least healthier.

Point guard Ty Lawson missed the final two games of the trip with a fractured rib but hopes to return soon after the break. In six games without its leading scorer this season, Denver has averaged 89.3 points.

Veteran guard Randy Foye has assumed the bulk of the ballhandling duties in Lawson’s absence, but he, too, is feeling the aches and pains of heavy minutes over the past several weeks.

“I’m extremely banged up,” said Foye, who tweaked his hamstring on the second game of the trip. “I'm just going to stay positive and try work through it.”

Foye and the Nuggets will return to practice Monday before facing the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday at Pepsi Center. They are six games behind the Suns and the Golden State Warriors for the final two playoff spots in the West.

“No better time to just have a break and have everybody get away from each other for a few days,” Shaw said. “Hopefully (we can) recharge and re-group and get ready for the second half.”