Nuggets coach Michael Malone ignored his father’s suggestion to “relax,” which came after one of Denver’s first preseason games.
In all fairness, the Nuggets’ performance in Oklahoma City on Wednesday night gave him no reason to do so.
The Nuggets suffered a 108-99 loss to the Thunder, which became even more disheartening as it was the first time Denver’s opening night starters have played together for the entire preseason. They are now 0-4 in the preseason.
“We took a step back tonight,” said Malone.
Will Barton’s return to action following his ankle injury was a rare bright spot, but most of what the Nuggets wrote was rambling and ugly. Overwhelmed and ahead of the Thunder, the Nuggets open the regular season in a week in Phoenix.
Until then, they have a lot of issues to deal with and a lot of movies to illustrate those issues. Denver wraps up the preseason Thursday night against Oklahoma City in Tulsa.
Bench sickness: Malone emphasized the “consistency” when asked what he wanted to see from Denver’s second unit in his last two preseason games. This did not happen in the first game against OKC, although it improved in the second half.
Nikola Jokic scored with 3:56 left in the first quarter, then left the game shortly after. The Nuggets had three points – all via free throws – the rest of the quarter.
Even with Michael Porter Jr. tottering alongside Facu Campazzo, PJ Dozier, Bones Hyland and Jeff Green, the offense stagnated in isolation and heavy dribbling sets. It was nothing like the fluid, reading and reacting offense the starters had generated around Jokic.
Malone’s frustration, on the sidelines and approaching the timeouts, was palpable.
The Nuggets opened the second quarter with Austin Rivers on the ground, but that hasn’t changed much. It wasn’t until the starters got back into the game that Denver’s offense got some cohesiveness.
With just one game to play in the preseason, the bench unit – and who will fill it – remains the Nuggets’ biggest concern. Green (15 points) and Hyland (12) held on.
Carrier issues: Porter didn’t help himself much despite his presence alongside the Reserves. In the final three minutes of the first quarter, Porter made three separate turnovers that undermined his already struggling offense. On the one hand, he undressed. On another, he was whistled for an offensive foul after kicking his leg on a 3-point – a point of importance to officials this season. On the last one, he threw the ball while trying to push it down the field.
Defensively, his rotations and fences weren’t good either. The injury insult came with 7:55 left in the third quarter, when Porter missed a wide open dunk.
Less than two minutes later, with the Nuggets behind the Thunder 72-57, Malone replaced all starting five. The rare hit was preempted by their uninspired play.
“We weren’t scoring, we weren’t running, we weren’t generating good shots, we weren’t getting any saves, we weren’t communicating, and this is the first time this unit has played this way,” said Malone. .
Porter finished the game with 15 points on 6 of 14 shots and six rebounds. His front row partner Aaron Gordon struggled even more on the pitch, scoring just three points on 1 for 8 shots.
Barton’s rebound: For weeks, the Nuggets had been talking about Barton’s health before rolling his ankle on the first day of training camp. The first reports were correct.
Barton looked sharp and spirited en route to 11 points and nine rebounds. Her chemistry with Jokic picked up where it left off last season.
Without Jamal Murray, Barton’s offensive creation will be priceless. Few Nuggets can break a defense like Barton, or have the scoring-first mentality that they sometimes need.