For Nuggets, injuries to Jamal Murray, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope present tricky balance in last game before All-Star break

MILWAUKEE — When a team is successful enough for long enough, anything that even resembles a losing streak can start to feel like uncharted territory.

With one game remaining before the NBA All-Star break, the Denver Nuggets are reckoning with consecutive losses for the first time since early December, exactly 30 games ago. Coach Michael Malone was consistently satisfied with Denver’s play throughout January, especially while facing a grueling stretch of playoff-level opponents that included the longest road trip of the season.

He has also praised his team for establishing a measure of maturity in response to the uncommon losses. As recently as last Friday, before opening tip in Sacramento, Malone spoke to that premise while discussing the Kings’ season. “Let it play itself out,” he said. “That’s what you realize as a coach in the NBA: 82 games in the NBA, you can never get too high. You can never get too low.”

Three nights later, the Nuggets — for better or for worse — tested Malone’s ability to stand behind that philosophy with a 112-95 loss to the Bucks.

“We have to all look at ourselves in the mirror and find a way to bring the competitive spirit on Wednesday night,” he said, also acknowledging that “for me as a head coach, I’ve gotta make sure that I am not overreacting and panicking while also — that delicate balance of holding them accountable and letting them know how we’re playing right now. These last two games, it’s not good enough.”

Denver’s combined margin of defeat between Sacramento and Milwaukee was 46. Its combined assist-to-turnover ratio was 50 to 33, or 1.52. That’s the season-length ratio for Portland, ranked 30th in the league. The Nuggets are ranked second.

There’s much for Malone to want to fix Wednesday in a rematch against the Kings, this time at Ball Arena. That’s where he could encounter the delicate balance, though.

Jamal Murray and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope didn’t play the second half in Milwaukee due to respective injuries. Murray was shut down at halftime due to bilateral tibia inflammation. Caldwell-Pope has been dealing with right hamstring tightness for a week.

“The hamstring was feeling pretty good. Passed all the tests,” Malone said. “But those soft tissue injuries are always hard. He just went out there and played, and as I was putting him back in the game, I said, ‘How do you feel?’ And he looked at me with a little bit of hesitation, and that’s when I told him, ‘Go sit down.’”

That was a cautionary order helped along by the lopsided direction of the game. The Bucks led by as many as 22 in the second quarter. Whether Denver’s starting backcourt plays Wednesday, with seven off-days looming, is up in the air for now. Whether it should is a matter of its own. The Nuggets are shooting 42% from the field as a team and 30% from 3-point range during this brief losing “streak,” collectively feeling the effect of a banged-up Murray, who at his best can take over games with …read more

Source:: The Denver Post – Sports


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