At times this season, the Pepsi Center has felt downright morbid during Denver Nuggets games. Denver is again ranked dead-last in home attendance with an average of 13,768 people coming out per game in 2016-17, according to ESPN. A lot of times the squeaking of sneakers and a basketball bouncing are all you hear.
But that was not the case Saturday night. 16,056 fans were on hand to watch the Nuggets earn a 123-98 wire-to-wire victory over the Los Angeles Clippers, who were without Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. The crowd was one of the largest — and perhaps more importantly, the loudest — of the season. That didn’t go unnoticed by the team.
“We looked at each other on the bench like, ‘Wow, we have a crowd,’ power forward Kenneth Faried said.
“Thank god. I mean, shit. We were ecstatic. Just as a team we were ecstatic. Just proud. Them cheering, ‘Let’s go Nuggets.’ That never happened here in the last three years. It was just electrifying. It helped us to be able to play the defense we needed and to do the things we did offensively. To hear the crowd roaring when we hit shots and made big plays. When the refs made bad calls, and they were yelling at the refs, ‘That’s a bad call.’ That’s what we need each and every game. I hope the crowd understands they help us fuel us as much as we fuel them.”
Faried, who’s been with Denver since coming into the league in 2011, said it was the liveliest crowd he’s seen at the Pepsi Center since the George Karl era. Denver last reached the playoff in Karl’s final season in 2013. Then Karl was fired, and the Nuggets underwent massive roster changes. They haven’t won more than 36 regular-season games since Karl was canned.
With Saturday’s win, the Nuggets improved to 17-24 overall and 9-8 since Nikola Jokic became the starting center Dec. 15. They’d qualify for the playoffs if the regular season ended tomorrow as the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference.
Denver started running its offense through Jokic in mid-December and is putting up prodigious offensive numbers as a result. Jokic needed only 21 minutes to record 19 points, 10 rebounds and three assists Saturday. He was one of six Nuggets in double figures. Danilo Gallinari, Will Barton and Wilson Chandler each scored 18.
“We’re a fun team to watch,” Nuggets coach Mike Malone said. “If you’re a basketball fan, you have to like watching us play. Even nights when we don’t get stops. The way we play offense, the way we share the ball, the way we move — that’s the way the game should be played.”
Offensively, the Nuggets have been the second-most efficient team in basketball since Dec. 15. They’re scoring in bunches. They’ve put up 120 points or more in four of their last five games and gone 4-1 in that stretch.
Nuggets fans seem to be taking notice.
“When there were ‘Let’s go Nuggets” chants, I haven’t heard that since I’ve been here,” Malone said. “I applaud our fans for coming out and making this a tougher home environment to play in. We need more of that. We want to be a playoff team. We want our fans to get involved in the process. We have some really loyal fans. We want those fans who haven’t come out yet to start coming out and make this place a really tough place to play.”
Subscribe to Denverite’s weekly sports newsletter here.