For a team that has done everything it can to distance itself from the negative memories of last season, the Denver Nuggets are having some of their worst moments of the campaign in front of the home crowd they are hoping to woo back into the seats on a regular basis.
The latest example came on Tuesday night when the Nuggets reached historical lows in their 85-74 home loss to the Orlando Magic. Denver’s 74 points were the franchise’s fewest points at home since scoring 73 against Cleveland on December 2, 2004. Additionally, the Nuggets scored just 27 points in the second half, their fewest since November 4, 2003, and tied for sixth-fewest in a second half all-time.
Denver’s seventh loss in 10 home games wasn’t just limited to a poor showing on offense. The Nuggets allowed Orlando to outrebound them by 11 boards in the second half and outscore them 54-34 in the paint for the game. While Denver had had issues with teams beating them from the outside this season, this game was decided under the basket and Orlando established quickly after intermission that it was going to go inside. After Denver’s Kenneth Faried opened the second-half scoring with a pair of free throws to give the Nuggets a 49-40 edge, Orlando’s next seven baskets were either layups, putbacks, or dunks.
Orlando would go on to outscore the Nuggets 22-16 in that period and not relinquish the lead the rest of the night.
“We just didn’t come out with any energy in the second half,” said Denver guard Jameer Nelson, who finished just 2-of-8 from the field. “We have to do a better job of withstanding a team’s run and not dropping our heads. We drop our heads too much, I think. It’s a game of mistakes.”
The mistakes have been many at the Pepsi Center so far this season, leading to the Nuggets averaging just 13,649 fans per game, the lowest in the NBA. Take away the 17,689 who were in attendance to see the Golden State Warriors tie the record for consecutive wins to open the season and that number drops even further.
Those numbers may not improve soon knowing the injury problems the Nuggets are currently facing. Denver lost Wilson Chandler before the season began to surgery. Jusuf Nurkic has yet to see the floor. After a strong preseason, Joffrey Lauvergne has missed time with injury and was unavailable last night. Gary Harris has been sidelined by a concussion. Darrell Arthur played just over seven minutes against Orlando before leaving with a knee injury. Faried has missed time this season. Danilo Gallinari seemed to be struggling in the second half after fighting through a deep bone bruise suffered on the recent road trip. The list goes on and on.
Denver is by no means at full strength at the moment, but head coach Michael Malone is still expecting more from the players he has available.
“We give our guys personnel reports and our guys still go out there and make the same mistakes,” an obviously frustrated Malone said after the game on Tuesday night. “We get beat middle, leaving our feet on shot fakes, whatever it may be. Our attention to detail, our ability to lock in and focus and have discipline is piss-poor right now. That has a lot to do with us being a team that plays 36 to 40 minutes a night and not 48.”
And a team that can’t execute for an entire game is a team that won’t easily win back its fans or gain ground in a rugged Western Conference. A team that has trouble scoring will also have trouble winning as Denver can attest. With Tuesday night’s loss, Denver is now 0-11 on the season in games where it scores under 100 points.
Friday’s visit to the Pepsi Center by the Minnesota Timberwolves will be the second and final of the regular season for the Northwest Division foe. The first was anything but memorable for the Nuggets. Malone still refers back to that game, which was Denver’s home opener, saying his team “crapped the bed” when trying to impress the home fans. Now, more than a month after that game, Denver is once again hoping to find itself and its home-court magic.