Nuggets coach Michael Malone ripped into his team for their lack of defense Wednesday night against the Pelicans where Denver allowed New Orleans to score 123 points on 53.5 percent shooting. The Pelicans also shot 12-31 (38.7 percent) from three-point range.
After a close first half, New Orleans pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 123-114 victory. Denver's last six road losses have come by an average of 20 points. Malone was particularly unhappy with Denver's inability to defend according to the scouting report.
"We didn't guard anybody. Jrue Holiday went left every time. And we went over personnel, talked about how he likes to go left. Yet, he got left every single time. DeMarcus Cousins went right every time. Talked about personnel. DeMarcus is going to go right," Malone said via Altitude TV. "They didn't feel us, we didn't take it personally. They kicked our ass. It's becoming the same story every single night. And until our guys start taking it personal, until our guys start understanding the importance of playing defense and guarding your man 1-on-1. Forget playoffs. That is a word we should not use with this team."
Mason Plumlee, who fouled out in 23 minutes, echoed Malone's thoughts.
"You get guys' tendencies in the scouting report. We let them play to their tendencies," Plumlee said via Altitude TV. "You got to make guys beat you with their "B" and their "C" moves but they beat us with their "A" moves tonight."
"It's just paying attention when you do watch (film), I would say," Plumlee added when asked how the defense can improve.
Holiday scored 19 first-half points and finished with 27 on 12-20 shooting to go with seven assists. Cousins poured in 40 points on 12-25 shooting. The All-Star center also hit two threes and finished 14-21 from the free-throw line. After holding Cousins to four points in the first quarter, the Kentucky product tallied 32 points and 14 rebounds over the remainder of the game.
"Yeah, especially when you don't guard him, when you don't give any effort to guarding him, when you don't take it personal and accept that challenge of guarding him. Of course," Malone said responding to a question about Cousins' status as one of the best players in the league. "He's a great player and again he went out there and did whatever he wanted and did it with ease."
After adding Paul Millsap to what was statistically the league's second-worst defense last season, Denver saw an immediate uptick in efficiency on that end of the floor. A more aggressive scheme, Millsap's presence and improved play up and down the rest of the Nuggets' roster helped Denver ascend to the league's 17th-best defense through the first 15 games of the season, per NBA.com.
Denver was giving up 105.0 points per 100 possessions with Millsap in the lineup — a noticeable improvement from the 110.5 points per 100 the Nuggets allowed a year ago.
But with Millsap sidelined after left wrist surgery, which took place on Nov. 26, the Nuggets' defense has plummeted. Over the past nine games (including Denver's Nov. 19 loss to the Lakers where Millsap only played 13 minutes) the Nuggets are giving up 112.7 points per 100 possessions. Statistically, Denver has been the league's second-worst defense since Millsap went down in Los Angeles.
"My message is stop feeling sorry for yourself. Take pride in your defense. Because if you don't, the same thing is going to keep happening," Malone said. "I'm not going to play the same guys over and over when we give up every single night 110 (points), 120 (points), 55 (percent) from the field 50 (points) in the paint. It's not in my nature. I'm not going to sit there and watch that much longer. I'll tell you that much."
Denver jumped out to a 10-2 mark at Pepsi Center this season and has shown flashes of dominance at home. However, the Nuggets are now just 3-9 on the road after their loss Wednesday night in New Orleans.
"Let's just talk about being real honest. We're a bad basketball team on the road. We're a very good team at home," Malone said. "Unfortunately, in the NBA, you have to play 41 games on the road and right now we are a bad road team."
The Nuggets continues a six-game road trip in Orlando on Friday before traveling to Indiana, Detroit and Boston. Denver plays their next four road games in a span of just six days.
The Nuggets are hoping to get Nikola Jokic (ankle) back in the lineup towards the middle or end of the current road trip. Millsap is expected to miss "several months" as he recovers from surgery.