DENVER, CO - JANUARY 10: Gary Harris #14 of the Denver Nuggets handles the ball during the game against the Atlanta Hawks on January 10, 2018 at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado.
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Malone Insists Nuggets to Get Back to Basics After Loss to Atlanta

by Christopher Dempsey
Nuggets Insider

In the postgame locker room, in the aftermath of a 110-97 Nuggets’ loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday night at the Pepsi Center, coach Michael Malone polled the veterans with playoff experience. Darrell Arthur. Mason Plumlee. Paul Millsap. Richard Jefferson.

“They know,” Malone said, “the way we played tonight isn’t even close enough to getting it done if you want to be a playoff team.”

It was an uphill struggle all night long. Shots weren’t falling from anywhere. The Nuggets’ most reliable scorers couldn’t get things going. But Malone tossed out poor shooting. Instead, he honed-in on effort.

“I’m not going to use the word embarrassing because that would be disrespectful to Atlanta,” Malone said. “You’ve got to give them credit; they came in here and beat us. But for us to come out with the lack of energy, lack of a sense of urgency, was really disappointing. At the end of the day, I put this loss on me. Obviously, I’m not doing my job to get this team ready to play. Whether it’s the Philadelphia game without Joel Embiid, whether it’s at Sacramento, or tonight, we come out thinking we can just show up.”

There aren’t many scenarios where Nikola Jokić can shoot 19 percent from the field and the Nuggets still win. Wednesday night, the Nuggets star center was a microcosm of how the team struggled as a whole.

The struggles started early and never really let up. The Nuggets fired away from the 3-point line to start the game, but rarely hit the mark. They were 3-of-15 from the arc when the dust settled on the first quarter. And outside of Gary Harris scoring 25 points on 11-of-14 shooting, making shots did not happen.

For the game, the Nuggets shot 38-of-95 (40 percent) from the field, 12-of-20 (60 percent) from the free throw line and 9-of-37 (24.3 percent) from the 3-point line. It was their third straight loss, the first time that’s happened to the Nuggets all season.

Jokić found matters particularly tough. He made just 4-of-21 shots overall, including 0-for-8 from the 3-point line. He finished with nine points, 12 rebounds and seven assists. It was just a rough night all around.

“And in this league when you think you can just show up and win a game, you get your (butt) kicked,” Malone said. “That’s exactly what happened tonight. So, tough, tough loss. Obviously, we have to bounce back. And we’re going to stop using the word playoffs for a while. We’re not a playoff team. The team that you’ve seen as of late, playoffs should not be in our vocabulary. Just worry and focus on beating one team at a time. So, our whole focus now is to beat Memphis on Friday night.”

The Nuggets had a few chances to keep themselves close and in the game. They were down just 82-78 at the start of the fourth quarter, but the Hawks pulled away using a 20-9 run to start the quarter and never looked back. It was the Hawks first road win since Dec. 2.

The Nuggets return to action on Friday against Memphis.

Christopher Dempsey: and @chrisadempsey on Twitter.