DENVER – The starters are doing their job, but the rest of the Denver Nuggets seem to be struggling.
Friday’s 114-112 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves marked the second straight game where the Nuggets’ starters produced a comfortable lead only to watch it diminish as they rested.
“I don't know if guys are really comfortable because they assume they're going to be playing minutes, but they better stop assuming that,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said Friday, recalling his message from halftime. “Everybody is fighting for something and I thought that bench unit in that second quarter (struggled). I think it was 13-4 to start, 20-7 to start that quarter.”
The final box score against the Timberwolves shows all five Nuggets starters – Monte Morris, PJ Dozier, Michael Porter Jr., Aaron Gordon and Nikola Jokic – with at least a plus-13. Every reserve was minus-5 or worse. The same thing, albeit to a lesser extent, happened Wednesday against the Warriors when the starters were all plus-5 or better and ever bench player was neutral or negative.
“We’re sharing the ball really well. Defensively, we’re doing what we need to do,” Gordon said of the starters’ success. “We’re getting out in transition. We’re not messing up a lot of sets. Defensively, here and there we have some breakdowns that we need to clean up, but overall, we’re doing well.”
Bones Hyland was a part of both units Friday. With Morris sitting the second half, Denver’s first-round pick started the second half against the Timberwolves and scored all 21 of his points after halftime, though he did finish with a game-high six turnovers. He’s noticed differences between to the two units.
“We’re struggling to get into offense. It’s not looking fluently, like how the first group is,” Hyland said. “When the first group is out there, they have a blowout score. When we come in, it’s like the score keeps going down and down and down. We need to be more locked coming in as a second unit and be more focused and prepared because the first unit is carrying all the weight.”
With the Nuggets up 98-95 in the final minute, reserves gave up a four-point play before Hyland put the hosts back up two with his sixth 3-pointer. Hyland then got beat for a dunk and seemed to forget the game was tied, allowing the clock to run out in regulation.
“I think everything that could have gone wrong went wrong. From fouling the jump shooter, we get beat off the bounce – it’s one-on-one containment, there’s no one to give help – and give up a wide-open layup,” Malone said.
“You’d much rather teach and learn after a win, but these are invaluable clips and film to watch with our guys. Starters, second unit, third unit, whoever it is, to try to not make the same mistakes that we’ve made in our first three games.”
After another tough night, Gordon shared his message to the bench players.
“Just stay ready, stay prepared, don’t waste opportunities,” Gordon said. “I think some of these guys are still trying to figure out positions. You had Facu (Campazzo) out there (with) Bones and Austin (Rivers) out there. It’s quite a bit of guards. Plus, you have Jeff (Green) and J-Myke (JaMychal Green), which are four and fives. There’s a lot of interchangeable positions out there, so I think everyone is just trying to kind of get in where they fit in. At the same time, you’ve got to continue to lock up on defense.”