Denver Nuggets coach Michael Malone held a “State of the Union” meeting with his team Tuesday morning ahead of their matchup with the Brooklyn Nets that focused on curtailing the turnover troubles that have hovered over his team through ten games this season.
“At some point, when is enough enough? When are we going to stop beating ourselves?” Malone said at shootaround when describing what the message was to his team. “We’ve made so many improvements, I know it’s early but even defensively from this season to last year. But good teams don’t beat themselves. And you think about the Utah game and you think about the Washington game, turnovers cost us both those games and we have to stop that as soon as possible.”
In Denver’s opening night loss to the Jazz, the Nuggets held a nine-point lead at halftime and led by as many as 15 points in the third quarter before committing 13 second-half turnovers resulting in a 106-96 Jazz win. Against Washington back on Oct. 23, Denver turned the ball over 23 times leading to 28 Wizards’ points.
On the season, the Nuggets are giving up 21.2 points a night off turnovers — the second-highest mark in the league. Nikola Jokic, Paul Millsap, and Emmanuel Mudiay are all averaging over two turnovers per game.
“The most important thing for all our point guards is valuing the ball,” Malone said. “And the reason I say that, right now we are 29th in points allowed off turnovers. We’re giving our opponent 21.2 points a night off our mistakes. That’s absurd. How are you going beat anyone when you’re giving opponents 20 plus a night? So I think it starts with (our point guards). And obviously, everybody else is involved. Nikola and Paul, who we play through a lot, they need to value the ball at a higher level, but it starts with our point guards.”
The meeting Tuesday morning wasn’t just about the turnover issues but also addressed where Denver stands after ten games. It’s a long, 82-game season “where you can get lost,” Malone said. It was an opportunity to go over the good, the bad and what the Nuggets have to focus on over these next few weeks.
Another emphasis was Denver’s much-improved defense. A year ago, the Nuggets fielded the league’s 29th-ranked defense and gave up an average of 110.5 points per 100 possessions — the second-worst mark in the league. Through ten games Denver has cut that number to 106.4, good for 22nd overall.
“Sometimes I think you also have to look at yourself, look within and kind of figure out where we’re at and what’s giving us the most trouble,” Malone said. “But also what we’re doing well.”
The Nuggets rank in the middle of the pack in forcing and scoring off turnovers after struggling in both categories last season. Denver’s paint defense has also improved to the eighth-best in the league.
“I want them to know, yes we’re 5-5, we’re struggling in certain areas but we’re also doing a really good job in other areas as well,” Malone said. “It’s a process. We have to continue to work, teach, hold them accountable and let them know where we’re at and why you win and why you lose.”
Nuggets not taking Nets lightly
The Nets, who Denver faced just nine days ago in Brooklyn where the Nuggets pulled off a 124-110 win, come to Pepsi Center on the heels of their first road win of the year, a 98-92 victory Monday night in Phoenix.
But Brooklyn, who had dropped four-straight before their win over the Suns, is a different looking team than the one Denver beat. Small forward DeMarre Carroll is back after missing the two teams’ previous matchup with an ankle injury and starts alongside Allen Crabbe in the Nets’ backcourt.
The Nets are also a scrappy team who are sixth in the league in deflections and loose balls recovered per game.
“They’re a team that’s very active with their hands, generates steals because if we don’t turn the ball over, we can score on them,” Malone said. “You look at a lot of their defensive numbers, they’re not great. But obviously, they’re very active with their hands, getting deflections, they’re a hard-playing team.”
Through ten games Brooklyn is the 24th-ranked defense in the league.