Nuggets want to win it all for Nikola Jokić, and better defense is the only way:

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — You know how you can tell the Denver Nuggets didn’t live up to the lofty expectations of their longtime coach, Michael Malone?

You hear this message being sent inside the locker room not long after the latest road game.

“First bus is leaving (for the airport) in three minutes!,” a member of the team’s support staff shouted not long after Malone’s team blew a 19-point lead in a 127-126 loss to the Kings on Wednesday night at the Golden 1 Center. “Coach is on the first bus!”

Translation: Coach isn’t happy.

In this Nuggets world where they have grand plans of contending for titles for the rest of Nikola Jokić’s remarkable prime, and where that night’s lackluster defensive effort sparked a familiar fury inside of Malone while overshadowing their climb to the top of the Western Conference in the past two weeks, Malone’s choice to hop on that first bus out of town is always a clear sign he’s displeased. As if his news conference that came before had left any doubt.

As Malone had detailed with reporters, his frustration was compounded by the fact that his message in that morning’s team meeting had clearly not been heeded. Inside the Kimpton Sawyer hotel where they stayed, and where they met in a ballroom to discuss the game plan heading into the second game in the back-to-back set against Sacramento, the Nuggets were shown the kind of before-and-after defensive stats he hoped would inspire them to keep the recent momentum going.

He showed them how bad they’d been during a 14-10 start (26th in defensive rating), and how good they had been while winning eight of nine games since then (ninth). He spotlighted their defensive rating during their five-game winning streak (second), and how they had the league’s best defensive rating during clutch time for the season. He went even deeper into the defensive stats too while making it clear their potential far exceeded the overall results to that point (23rd in defensive rating at that time).

The message was clear: We have the personnel, and the coaching, to be a good defensive team. And then … they proceeded to give up 30-plus points in three of four quarters while letting the Kings hit 13 of 18 shots in the final period.

“Literally this morning, on a big screen and in that ballroom (I told them that) this is why we’re winning,” Malone said. “And we go out here tonight and we guard nobody. … They shot 72 percent in the fourth quarter. Ssss-seventy-two percent!”

This wasn’t about just one game, either. This was a bigger-picture speech if ever there was one, with Malone’s exasperation level rising as he continued.

“That’s not a mistake,” Malone said. “So it’s just understanding that. And yes, I know there was no Jamal Murray (knee), there was no Aaron Gordon (shoulder), there was no Bruce Brown (ankle). Jeff Green (hand) continues to be out. So what? Do your job. Defend. Have some resistance. And tonight, obviously, we didn’t…

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Read More: Nuggets want to win it all for Nikola Jokić, and better defense is the only way: 2022-12-30 20:07:20

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