Hemorrhaging points, Denver’s defense “nowhere near where we need to be”


CHICAGO – Aaron Gordon pulled up near the elbow and buried the mid-range look.

It was the type of play that should’ve forced the Bulls to take the ball out of the basket, work the ball up the court and face a set defense — the kind that could potentially impede an opponent.

But with 3:42 left in the first half of Friday night’s second preseason game, the Nuggets meandered back up the court. Gordon, Jamal Murray, DeAndre Jordan and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope were all behind their respective men. Michael Porter Jr., backpedaling up the court, was not.

Bulls guard Zach LaVine inbounded it quickly. He found Ayo Dosunmu, who was willing to push the pace. When Dosunmu looked up, he saw Javonte Green streaking past Porter and toward the hoop.

The ensuing alley-oop lob was demoralizing to a team already hemorrhaging points. Even more so, it had been a point of emphasis throughout the entire week and as recently as Friday morning at shootaround. It was unassailable evidence of how connected a defense needed to be, especially in transition, to succeed.

Asked specifically about the defense, Porter knew exactly where the lapses were.

“Just getting back,” he said. “Too many guys crashing the offensive glass.”

The only problem is that on the play in question, Porter didn’t go anywhere near the glass. He just didn’t hustle back.

After the game – a humbling 131-113 defeat to the Bulls – Malone was downtrodden at how little of his message had landed.

At shootaround, they harped on transition defense. They drilled it in hopes it would become a habit.

Instead, as Malone aptly put it, “Guys looked at me like I’ve got three heads.”

Denver gave up 23 fastbreak points in Friday’s loss to the Bulls. In the first half alone, they’d conceded 40 points in the paint, a mind-numbing number and one so egregious it indicated breakdowns in both scheme and effort. When Denver shored up its interior defense in the second half, limiting Chicago to just 10 points inside, it was their 3-point defense that got gashed. Chicago hit 13 3-pointers over the final two quarters, connecting on 65% of the looks.

“It was no (defensive) shift because it was bad to bad,” Malone said.

In their preseason opener earlier this week, the Nuggets got pounded for 50 points inside against the Thunder. There was no improvement.

At training camp in San Diego, the Nuggets talked openly about trying to be a top-five defense. That includes protecting the ball better, defending the paint, communicating and closing out.


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