One step forward, two steps back. That’s the trajectory the Denver Nuggets have followed this season.
Things appeared to be trending in the right direction when Denver ripped off a 5-2 stretch after it decided to start its best player, Nikola Jokic. But since then the Nuggets have dropped three straight, the latest a sleepy 120-113 loss to the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday.
Once again, the Nuggets’ problem was defense. They allowed Sacramento to shoot 52.3 percent from the floor. After the game, Nuggets coach Mike Malone made it known he isn’t happy with the way his team is defending right now.
“We have the worst defense in the NBA,” Malone said. “That’s the bottom line. It’s embarrassing how we go out there and defend every night. That’s something we have to try and fix as soon as possible because it’s at an all-time low right now, and that is a huge concern of mine.”
Malone isn’t exaggerating. The Nuggets are giving up a league-worst 115.2 points per 100 possessions in 10 games since making the lineup change Dec. 15. They’ve sunk all the way to 28th in defensive rating, allowing 109.6 points per 100 possessions over the course of the entire season.
Giving up 127 to the Warriors, as Denver did Monday, is understandable. Giving up 124 to the 76ers and 120 the Kings, as Denver has done during this three-game skid, is not.
“It’s a joke,” Malone added. “Right now we have no leadership, no veteran leadership on this team stepping up. I don’t hear anybody speaking or taking the lead. We have two young guys trying to speak up. You applaud them, but we need some veteran leadership to step up and shine when we’re struggling, which we are.”
Malone didn’t pull any punches Tuesday. We’ll see if the Nuggets can respond. They’re back in action Thursday against the Spurs.
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