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HomeSportCoach Malone asks Nuggets to play like defending champs

Coach Malone asks Nuggets to play like defending champs


Michael Malone Denver Nuggets NBA

Head coach Michael Malone of the Denver Nuggets directs his team against the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first quarter during Game Two of the NBA Western Conference Second Round Playoffs at Ball Arena on May 06, 2024 in Denver, Colorado.  Matthew Stockman/Getty Images/AFP 

DENVER — After a difficult-to-watch film session of their Monday night meltdown against Minnesota and an energetic practice Wednesday, Denver Nuggets coach Michael Malone gave his team a stinging reminder and made a request.

“Guys, we’re the reigning world champions,” Malone said. “Act like it and play like it.”

They did neither in their 108-80 Game 2 loss to the Timberwolves, who took a 2-0 lead in the best-of-7 Western Conference semifinal series back to Minneapolis.

READ: NBA: Nuggets can’t let Timberwolves supporting cast get hot again

On Tuesday, the NBA fined Nuggets point guard Jamal Murray $100,000 for tossing a towel and a heat pack onto the court “in the direction of a game official during live play” in the second quarter of Game 2.

Murray avoided a suspension and also dodged any punishment for making a money sign at an official earlier in the second quarter. A similar gesture by Timberwolves center Rudy Gobert in a regular season game in March drew a $100,000 fine from the league.

Murray, who has been flummoxed by a strained left calf, a lost shooting touch and a paucity of whistles going his way, left Ball Arena without speaking to reporters after Games 1 and 2.

He met with the media after practice Wednesday but didn’t have much to say about his actions that endangered players on both teams and Marc Davis’ officiating crew or the fine issued by the league.

READ: NBA: Timberwolves blitz Nuggets for 2-0 lead

“Nah, I mean it is what it is and I take everything in full responsibility, so on to the next,” Murray said when asked whether he had expected the fine and if he felt his punishment was appropriate.

Asked for an explanation of his actions, Murray said, “Yeah, on to the next. I mean, two days ago, not much for me to say about it right now.”

When asked about issuing an apology or taking responsibility, Murray cut off the line of questioning by asking, “Do you have any basketball questions?”

Denver Nuggets Jamal Murray NBA TImberwolves vs Nuggets

Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray (27) in the second half of Game 2 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series Monday, May 6, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Murray acknowledged the Nuggets lost their collective composure Monday night when the Wolves hounded them into a 35% shooting performance even though their best defender, Rudy Gobert, who won the league’s Defensive Player of the Year Award on Tuesday, was back in Minneapolis for the birth of his son.

“We’ve just got to be ready to play and not get frustrated with how the game goes sometimes and we allowed it to take us out of our game,” Murray said. “So, we’ve just got to stay composed and find a way to stick together during the game and figure it out. No matter what the scoreboard says, we’ve got to be able to claw back.”

The towel Murray threw landed at the heels of Davis on the baseline but the heat pack skidded across the floor just as Karl-Anthony Towns was going for a lay-up.

Wolves coach Chris Finch called Murray’s actions “inexcusable and dangerous,” saying somebody easily could have gotten hurt.

“I’ve never seen that from Jamal. That was very uncharacteristic,” Malone said, attributing Murray losing his cool to “taking a charge and it’s not called, not making shots at the level we know he’s capable of making, being down 30 points to a team that we’re trying to beat to get to the Western Conference finals.

“So when you put it all in the boiling pot, that’s a lot to handle. And he didn’t handle it the way he knows he needs to handle it, and I’m sure he told you guys that.”

Coming off the first NBA championship in franchise history, the Nuggets have shown a fatigue in these playoffs that has plagued previous champions.

Unlike last year when they coasted at the end of the regular season with the top seed in the West already secured, the second-seeded Nuggets jockeyed with Minnesota and Oklahoma City until the final weekend of the season.

Murray missed 23 games this season with a variety of lower body injuries and the constant double teams that opponents threw at Nikola Jokic is evident in the scars on his upper arms.

It’s not just health but slow starts that have plagued the reigning champs ever since the playoffs began.

They’ve trailed by large margins in all seven of their postseason games. They bounced back against the Lakers to win in five, with Murray hitting a pair of game-winning buckets. But they’ve been bamboozled by Minnesota’s swarming defense, size advantage and deeper bench and now have to beat rising star Anthony Edwards four times in five tries to make it to the Western Conference finals.



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Malone said he showed his team nine clips of Game 2 “that kind of encapsulated that game and why we lost. And our players owned it. And my greatest challenge to them and I don’t have an answer for whoever’s going to ask me do these guys believe? I don’t know. They all say they do but we will all find out collectively come Friday night.”





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