DENVER — What I’m about to tell you about the Nuggets is going to sound baaad. It’s going to sound like we’re back in the godforsaken Brian Shaw era — Andre Miller getting paid to not play, Nate Robinson dancing with Rocky during a losing streak, J.J. Hickson with one eye on the exit.
That’s not the case with these Nuggets. Not even close.
But there’s still too much of the old stuff poisoning the new stuff. There’s too much Kenneth Faried sulking on the bench, hiding under a hoodie, looking like he wants to be here as much as you want the flu. The $13-million-per-year forward managed to find the energy to stand and applaud Denver’s 20-point comeback on Monday. Twice. He stood twice. Faried even blessed the huddle a couple times by feigning interest in the Nuggets’ 111-110 loss to the Celtics.
It was a fantastic game he missed. The Nuggets were tough and explosive and tenacious and all the things that make a playoff team that few teams want to play. The Nuggets snapped their three-game winning streak, but this performance topped all three wins. They trailed 49-29 and did the opposite of mail it in.
“I can’t say it enough,” coach Michael Malone said afterward. “I’m really proud of our guys.”
They did it without Faried. They almost always do it without Faried. Oh, the Manimal moped onto the court for 5 minutes, whiffed a point-blank layup and slumped back to his cave at the end of the bench, out of the action and the conversation. They did it without Wilson Chandler, who left a game Saturday with what the team called a “migraine” and didn’t play Monday with what the team called an “illness,” and if you believe it’s health that’s keeping Chandler away from Pepsi Center, I have a range of mountains to sell you. They’re right over there to the west. I'll take $20 and a Bryant Stith jersey for 'em.
“I think just fatigue. I don’t know if it’s fever. I don’t know if it’s flu-like symptoms. I’m not really sure,” Malone said of Chandler’s absence. “What they tell me is he’s not feeling well.”
What I’m telling the Nuggets is to move on from them. The trade deadline is Feb. 8, and Faried and Chandler shouldn't be here on Feb. 9. The return will be minimal impact because Faried and Chandler’s seasons have been minimal impact. But here’s the important thing: the Nuggets have tried to survive in spite of disharmony in the locker room in the past, and it never, ever ends well. There was disharmony during the Shaw era, and the Nuggets were a root canal to watch. There was disharmony at the end of last season, and the Nuggets narrowly missed the playoffs.
Not this time. They can’t risk it. They can’t risk it for all the reasons that shoved an announced sellout of 19,520 to its feet for the final 4 minutes of a game that had Celtics fans trying to fight Nuggets fans in the front row. This was the kind of team Colorado can get behind, one that takes a flurry of punches from the No. 1 team in the Eastern Conference and counters with a flurry of their own — from a bunch of 20- (Jamal Murray) and 22-year-olds (Nikola Jokic and Gary Harris). Torrey Craig dove across the court. Murray dove across the court. Will Barton played like his Bentley truck was riding on the next bucket. Jokic fought back against the defense that Celtics coach Brad Stevens brought from Butler: if you foul on every possession, they won’t call it. This was the kind of team that Nuggets fans will see more often without a pair of veteran players who quite clearly don’t want to be a part of this franchise revival.
“I’m not naive. I’ve been around the game my whole life. There’s going to be times when guys aren’t happy with each other,” Malone said Monday, referring to the disharmony we were talking about. “Frustrations are a part of a long NBA season. You don’t overreact. You address it. You talk about it. My message was simple: there’s going to be times when we don’t like each other and we may not like each other in the moment. We have to find ways to come together.”
And you know what? I didn't mind that the Nuggets didn't call timeout with the ball, a one-point deficit and roughly 5 seconds on the clock. They saw in the first half what happens when Boston can set up its defense. It's not fun. It's a wall. The Nuggets were ill-prepared and should've known they would run after a Celtics miss — there was too much hesitation to start the fire drill — but I didn't mind the no timeout. Malone trusted his guys, and his guys noticed.
"I stand by my decision," he said.
"If the ball went in, nobody would be say anything," Murray said of a last-second heave by Barton that missed the rim.
Oh, one more thing. Boston’s lead guard — Kyrie Irving — is worth the price of admission, if you get the chance. After Irving poured in 27 points, Murray was asked what he can learn from a superstar point guard like Irving.
“I can learn from film,” said Murray, who had 14 points, eight assists and blingy diamond necklace on his neck. “On the court I’m going to go at him.”
Don't you love that? These young bulls aren't scared. Malone suggested it’s that kind of experience that's going to elevate Murray to Irving’s “elite” level.
“I think he’s on the way to doing that, by the way,” Malone added.
Me too. But there's another way young guys can learn, and it's not the way the Nuggets want Murray, Harris and Jokic to learn. They don't want them to learn from the dead weight that’s threatening to poison a promising season.