Nuggets Talk Season of Accomplishments and Unfinished Business
Fewer than 24 hours after the last game of the season isn’t usually enough time for the sting of the abrupt ending to fade. And yet, as the Nuggets met the media on Thursday morning for the final time, they talked of both disappointment and hope in the same breath.
“Obviously, didn’t sleep well after that game,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “To be put in that situation, win or go home, was an accomplishment in my eyes. And you come up just short, is frustrating, because you’re a competitor. But what I’ve done since last night and this morning is kind of reflect on the year. As disappointed as we are, as disappointed as our fans are in not making the playoffs, I will not let that define the year.
“For us to go 46-36, we’re one of three teams in the NBA in the last three years that’s improved every season; that, to me is a major accomplishment. When I got here, this team had won 30 games. (Now), we won 46. That is a 16-game improvement. The culture has improved. Our players have improved. We had 14 sellouts this year, compared to three last year. I think basketball became fun and exciting in Denver once again, and I think our fans were a big part of that. I understand the emotion, I understand the frustration. But we all share in that. And all I can tell you is this: We’re heading in the right direction. We’re getting better. We improved in a lot of areas this year.”
None the least of which was in wins at home. The Nuggets had 31 wins at the Pepsi Center, a nine-game improvement over the previous season and the most home victories since they won 38 at home in 2012-13. They were much better in close games – 10-5 in games three points or less, which was one of the five best records, and second-most wins in the NBA in that category this season. They were better in their division, finishing with winning records against Oklahoma City (3-1) and Portland (3-1).
Players like Nikola Jokić, Jamal Murray, Will Barton and Gary Harris all improved their games. The impact of the addition of All-Star forward Paul Millsap was blunted because of a wrist injury that cost the veteran 44 games, but there were flashes of how effective he could be in the Nuggets’ system.
And yet, there was no denying struggles on the road, with their defense and with maintaining focus – no matter the opponent.
“When we go out and play the teams that we need to beat that aren’t near our level, then we’ve got to go out there and blow them out,” guard Jamal Murray said. “Just kind of take it more as a business game, rather than just going out there and thinking we’re going to win.”
Said center Nikola Jokic: “That’s experience. We were not making plays because we were not focused the whole season during every game.”
But all were encouraged by what the future holds.
“Through it all, I’m still optimistic and feel comfortable where we are,” forward Paul Millsap said. “I think through all of the circumstances and situations we’ve been through this year, with injuries and guys in and out of the lineup, I still think it was a successful season. Not too hurt about it. Wish we were still playing, but I’m still happy about our guys and where we are.”
Christopher Dempsey: firstname.lastname@example.org and @chrisadempsey on Twitter