DENVER — Looking for some energy in the first quarter, one which the Nuggets were a -24 plus-minus in prior to tonight, coach Michael Malone altered his starting lineup, inserting last season’s starting power forward Kenneth Faried in favor of Nikola Jokic who’s started all of Denver’s previous eight games this season at the four spot.
After Detroit raced out to a 13-4 lead, Malone scrapped the Jusuf Nurkic, Faried pairing and inserted Jokic and Wilson Chandler, perhaps representing a permanent shift away from the twin towers look. That shift may be so, but the Nuggets struggled to defend the Pistons tonight, who shot 51.1 percent from the field on their way to a 106-95 win, sending Denver to 3-6 on the season and 0-3 at home.
“Same old story, we outscore them 74-70 quarters two, three and four, but you spot them a 15-point lead in the first quarter and we flew the ball all over the gym,” Malone said. “Our turnovers are an epidemic and can’t have our starting point guard averaging five turnovers per game, it’s killing us right now.”
The turnovers, which have been Denver’s Achilles’ heel all year, hit the Nuggets again tonight. Emmanuel Mudiay was the main culprit with five to his name.
“Value the ball, make the simple play,” Malone said of his team’s turnovers. “We showed an edit today of our good offense and making the simple play and not trying to overdo it or do too many things. And right now, it’s come, one, we’re last in the league in turnovers, alright. It is what it is, we’re last in the league in turnovers, we don’t value the ball, we just throw it around we have no regard for the basketball.”
The Nuggets were able to close the gap by halftime to eight points at 57-49 but were never able to get within striking distance.
For Denver, Mudiay scored 19 points on just 6-14 shooting. Danilo Gallinari, who shouldered much of the offensive load in the second half scored 18 points and grabbed four rebounds.
With Malone moving away from the “Jurkic” lineup, the Nuggets deployed more combinations with one center surrounded primarily by Gallinari and Chandler. Through eight games, Jokic has never looked comfortable at the four spot alongside Nurkic and tonight was evidence that those lineups are pretty much over with.
“Nikola Jokic is probably the most selfless player on our team. He’s a guy that even came to me, says ‘coach I don’t want to start anymore. I just want to win,'” Malone said “He’s one of the few guys on our team, that if I can pull him out of the starting lineup, he’s not going to be upset and pout. And I give him a lot of credit and respect for that.”
Tonight, it was Nurkic grabbing the start at center alongside Faried, but the Bosnian went scoreless in 17 minutes. Faried, to his credit, did bring energy to the starting five, scoring eight points, grabbing eight rebounds, and even closed the game on the floor. However, as per usual, he couldn’t hold down the paint, letting Andre Drummond own the interior in the fourth quarter on his way to a 14-point, 12-rebound effort.
“Just energy, a pick-and-roll threat, and he’s a guy, we value possessions, he gets us extra possessions, he gets on the glass,” Malone said of his decision to close with Faried. “Nurkic didn’t bring much tonight, Jokic didn’t bring much tonight. For me, it’s always going to be big man by committee. Whoever I think has the biggest chance to help us down the stretch will be on the floor. Tonight, obviously it was Kenneth.”
Gary Harris scored 13 points on 5-11 shooting in 28 minutes. Malone said he asked to come out of the game in the closing minutes and was replaced by Jamal Murray (seven points, 3-6 shooting). It’s not known if Harris pulled himself off the floor due to injury or not.
Wilson Chandler played 30 minutes but struggled to shoot the ball tonight. Chandler shot just 3-12 from the field and finished with six points.
Pepsi Center, Denver, Colorado | November 12, 2016 | Game No. 9
NUGGETS STAR OF THE GAME
Gallinari got going in the second half tonight and finished with 18 points on 5-10 shooting, four rebounds and went 6-8 from the line tonight. Denver’s best offense in the second half was feeding Gallinari on the wing and letting him go to work, something we’ll see more of over the Nuggets next couple of games.
PLAYS OF THE GAME
Murray’s nifty behind-the-back
Jamal Murray starting to come into his own pic.twitter.com/p1UyrCWRyh
— Court Zierk (@CourtZierk) November 13, 2016
Gallinari’s reverse slam in traffic
— Davide Chinellato (@dchinellato) November 13, 2016
BY THE NUMBERS
QUOTE OF THE GAME
Malone on Denver’s best lineup:
“I think that’s maybe our most effective lineup, most versatile lineup [is]when you have Gallo and Wilson Chandler at the three and the four, and pick a big. Whoever’s having the night, we’ll go with that big down the stretch.”
Denver takes on the Trailblazers tomorrow night from Portland on a back-to-back before returning home for a four-game homestand against Phoenix, Toronto, Utah, and Chicago.