Michael Malone didn’t hold back when he ripped his team’s performance in a blowout loss at New Orleans on Halloween. The Denver Nuggets head coach called out the effort and commitment to defense, and the players responded with a win at Orlando two days later.
Tuesday offers a chance to see if the lesson took for more than a game when Denver hosts the Miami Heat to start a brief two-game homestand.
The Nuggets are a trendy pick to go deep in the playoffs next spring, but so far they haven’t shown any killer instinct in Denver. They needed overtime to beat the Phoenix Suns in their home opener and then got outworked by the Dallas Mavericks in a home loss a few nights later.
The surging Heat will certainly get Denver’s attention, especially the way they disposed of the Houston Rockets on Sunday night. Miami outscored Houston 46-14 in the first quarter and cruised to a 29-point win to improve to 5-1.
“I wish I could bottle that up,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of Sunday’s first quarter. “But obviously, guys have really been working to try to get to our identity and then bringing a great deal of energy and commitment to the defensive end. This is obviously one of the most challenging teams to defend in the league. You have to do things with great thought, technique. But the effort has to be there.”
Miami has brought the effort all season, posting an impressive overtime win at Milwaukee in the second game of the season without Jimmy Butler. The Heat have won three straight heading into a Western Conference road swing that includes games against Phoenix and the Los Angeles Lakers.
Eight Miami players are averaging double figures in scoring, and the big offseason acquisition, Butler, is sixth on the team at 14.7 points per game after missing the first three games of the season.
Justise Winslow, who is fifth in scoring at 14.8 ppg, sat out the Sunday game with a back injury and could miss the Tuesday game.
Denver can match Miami’s depth, even if forward Will Barton has to sit out his third straight game with a left foot injury. Barton was shooting during practice Monday, but he is questionable to doubtful for Tuesday, according to Malone.
Barton’s injury gave rookie Michael Porter Jr. a chance to break into the rotation. Porter was drafted 14th overall in 2018 but sat out all of last season recovering from back surgery. His debut came in the loss to the Pelicans, and he led the team with 15 points. He had just three points in seven minutes against Orlando.
“Michael Porter is an elite scorer and an efficient scorer, and he went out there and did exactly what I thought he’d do,” Malone said. “He made it look really easy.”
Getting production from Porter is a bonus, but Denver needs its All-Star center, Nikola Jokic, to play aggressively. Jokic at times has been passive, and Malone has told him he wants Jokic to take more shots.
“He’s a great player, he’s extremely unselfish, but for us to be at our best, we need him to take at least 15 shots a night,” Malone said. “That’s the challenge for him.”
–Field Level Media