Jan 19, 2017; San Antonio, TX, USA; Denver Nuggets shooting guard Jamal Murray (top) shoots the ball past San Antonio Spurs center Dewayne Dedmon (3) during the second half at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
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The Denver Nuggets were no match for the San Antonio Spurs Saturday Night, losing 121-97.
It doesn’t matter that 9 out of 10 of the Nuggets are nursing injuries. It doesn’t matter that they played a back-to-back against the number 2 team in the league on the Spurs home court. It doesn’t matter that they played 4 games in 5 nights. Expect them to win. No excuses.
After each NBA game there are summaries, opinions and analyses to remark on the reason for the outcome. The usual conversation revolves around the statistics. It’s as though teams focus on data, not people. Machines, not humans.
Who got the most points and rebounds? Was there a triple double? How did the stars play? Did someone foul out? Percentages, number of shots, etc., etc.
Then there might be comments on why the team played one way or another.
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Let’s examine this scenario:
if the Denver Nuggets win by one, the conversation is largely on how hard someone played, how the offense or defense was and most importantly, who got the most points and/or rebounds. Assists, steals and blocks are important, but it’s mostly about who got the most points.
If the Nuggets lose by one point, it’s largely because they didn’t play defense, they let the guards get around them, they couldn’t stop the threes or there were too many turnovers.
One basket may determine the entire perspective and review of the game and how to address it.
If in 47 minutes and 55 seconds the game was played the same in both scenarios except for those last 5 seconds, whether it is was good or bad is determined by who wins.
Maybe scoring points should not be the focus of the game. Maybe neither should playing defense. Maybe there is something more important.
Coach Mike Malone is doing a very good job developing this young Nuggets team. How is he planning his games to meet conditions?
Knowing Your Team, Knowing Your Competition
The average points a player scores largely determines the net value of that player in today’s NBA game. Other aspects like rebounds, blocks, assists and more sophisticated data such as PER and +/- are also important, but not as much as points.
So even though players are told to be contributors first, in reality, it’s the points that deliver their paychecks. This is a balance a mature player learns how to balance.
Maybe that’s why Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic is such a prize. He says he would rather make a good pass than score a point. And he can carry the entire team.
When you watch a team like San Antonio play, ultimately points are the most important issue. But they are the result of when other key aspects of the game are considered and addressed.
For example, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli, the two veteran guards for San Antonio, knew who they were playing and under what conditions.
The Nuggets had smaller or less experienced guards who had to be tired due to 4 games in 5 nights, arriving at 3:30 in the morning, and on a back-to-back. They knew how they had beaten the Nuggets before. They were playing the Nuggets with 9 out of 10 rotation players injured and the main scorer out.
So we keep hearing that the Nuggets cannot use injuries or over exertion as an excuse. But our competition did use these factors in their game plan.
Ginobli, 39, in his post-game interview, stated specifically that Denver was injured and tired and that they were going to take advantage.
San Antonio knew how to exploit Denver’s weaknesses. Ginobli got 18 points in 10 minutes; Parker, 18 points in 23 minutes. These ‘old men’ ate our youth up. Their bigs then closed the middle, and corralled Nikola Jokic to ineffectiveness. End of game.
Did the Nuggets try to compensate for this obvious weakness in their condition by playing San Antonio differently? Perhaps pulling the starters out after a five minute stint and letting the fresh legs confuse San Antonio? Jusuf Nurkic had a good game because he had fresh legs.
This is why coaches are paid very well. Sometimes a coach can only do so much. But a coach has to be very smart and understand the reality of his team. These are humans, not machines.
Mudiay plays hard, and doesn’t complain that he has an injured back lately, but when he can’t quite deliver, should he be blamed?
Salt in the Wound and Passing the Buck
Foremost, a coach should not blame players for not having what it takes under certain conditions to prevail. This is called rubbing salt in the wound, passing the buck, or not accepting responsibility. The coach’s job is to be prepared and inspire his players.
“Same story, every time we play this team. Starting group in the third quarter was awful. I realize they (San Antonio) are a very good team… I realize it’s our 4th game in 5 nights, but if you really want to be a playoff team, those are all excuses.“ …Denver Coach Malone.
He’s right, but is he real?
If a player does the best he can under the conditions, and falls short, should he be told he failed and is a disappointment? What would a player or team be thinking about that coach or his position as he goes to sleep? Hopefully he would think to do better, but possibly, he could let me out of here or, you try it coach.
This is what should be addressed by Coach Malone after the game.
The team should not hear about how they can’t play defense. They will then identify with not playing defense.
When they do play good defense, he should stress to the team what specifically they were doing well, to model that initiative.
They should hear that he was concerned about the minutes and safety of the team, that he knew some of them gave their all, that he appreciated the freshness of the reserves, but that he will take responsibility to make sure that they play better in the next similar circumstance.
It is his job to prepare the team, but the player’s job to take care of themselves and be as ready as they can be from the first moment, and to not compromise even one possession.
They do not want to watch each other in a review and say they did not have their hands up or did not make a good quick pass to help a teammate. Use peer pressure.
This game they knew they didn’t meet expectations. Rub it in?
Maybe this management philosophy will not work with these young millionaires. Maybe it needs to be all business, X-Style management. Play and win or you’re fired.
Or maybe the secret is somewhere in between for this Denver squad. In any case, it is the coach’s responsibility to prepare the team for the conditions at hand, and inspire them to do the best they can.