The Denver Nuggets haven’t exactly been road warriors this season.
Through 22 games, the Nuggets are just 3-7 away from Pepsi Center. Their three wins are against the Hawks, Nets and Kings. Denver has the second-worst road record among current playoff teams.
The good news is that there are still 60 games to play this season. Winning on the road in the NBA is tough, especially for young teams that are missing its two best players. Denver’s goal should be to go .500 on the road, as 17-year veteran Richard Jefferson told BSN Denver last week. Last season, nine playoff teams went .500 or worse on the road — three of which came from the West.
“I’ve never been on a team that was this much of a difference (home vs road),” Jefferson said. “You just got to be more physical. You have to be more steady, and that’s something that will come with time. Every team is good at home. People make a big deal out of it, and yes, we need to play better (on the road). But most teams in the league, if you have a .500 record on the road, you’re a very, very good team. Great teams have an above .500 record. Playoff teams typically hover around .500.”
Denver needs to play better on the road if it wants to maintain its current playoff seeding. The Nuggets get their next chance to Monday night (6:30 p.m. MST, ALT) when they face the Dallas Mavericks.
Denver’s tilt in Dallas is the preamble to a six-game road trip that takes the Nuggets from Texas to New Orleans (who could be without Anthony Davis), Orlando, Indiana, Detroit and Boston. The Nuggets will play four of their six games during this stretch against current playoff teams — much different than the four-game East Coast schlep in October when Denver faced Eastern Conference bottom-feeders Charlotte, Atlanta, Brooklyn and at the time, the Knicks.
When asking players and even Nuggets coach Michael Malone why Denver hasn’t been better on the road to start this year, it’s tough to come to a consensus.
“When we go on the road, we kind of give in. We get down when they make a shot,” Jamal Murray said. “We’ve just got to play through that.”
“We’ve just got to take the same pride we do at home in electrifying the crowd that we do on the road in silencing them,” Kenneth Faried said when asked how Denver can have a successful road trip.
Starting shooting guard Gary Harris said “playing together” and “communication” are the keys to victory on the road.
Buzzwords like energy, attention to detail and execution get thrown out as well. Maybe it’s that simple.
“We’re going to turn the lights off in the locker room before the game,” Malone said sarcastically when asked how Denver can replicate their success at home on the road. “Just kind of hypnotize them that they’re in the Pepsi Center.”
The Nuggets have a minus-93 scoring differential on the road this year — ahead of just Chicago and Sacramento — compared to a plus-106 differential at home, which is the fourth-best mark in the league. Denver’s shooting just 42.6 percent from the field away from Pepsi Center — the third-worst mark in the league as well — while hitting 49.1 percent of its shots at home.
Murray, who Malone has referred to as a different player at home than on the road, is shooting a solid 38.6 percent from three in Denver but just 15.2 percent outside the walls of Pepsi Center. On the season, Murray is 7-47 from three on the road.
Faried is converting just 36.0 percent of his field goals on the road compared to 67.9 percent at home.
Emmanuel Mudiay is shooting a healthy 45.3 percent at home but under 30.0 percent on the road.
“We like the challenge coming up. We’re gonna go in Dallas and get it right on the road. We want to be a good team everywhere,” Mason Plumlee said.
The Nuggets will look to their second-half defensive effort against Los Angeles on Saturday as a formula to win on this road trip. Denver was at home on Saturday but had to fend off an LA-leaning crowd with a second-half defensive effort where the Nuggets limited the Lakers to 41 points on 36.8 percent shooting.
Denver forced Los Angeles into 12 turnovers over the third and fourth quarters. Plumlee said it was the Nuggets’ best defensive performance of the season.
“The attention to personnel was probably the best its ever been,” Denver’s backup and now starting center said.
Nuggets hit the road in Dallas
Dallas comes into its matchup with Denver as the league’s 26th-best offense and 18th-best defense. Rookie Dennis Smith Jr is averaging 15.0 points per game. The Mavericks are led by Harrison Barnes, who’s averaging a team-high 17.9 points to go with 7.8 rebounds.
The Nuggets are without Millsap (wrist) and Jokic (ankle) tonight. Denver is hoping to get Jokic back towards the middle or end of their current road trip — the Nuggets’ second-longest of the season.