Michael Malone on slump — Nuggets have been ‘on cruise control’
TORONTO — Denver Nuggets coach Michael Malone was critical of his team’s effort following Tuesday night’s 125-110 loss to the Toronto Raptors, saying that being in first place for so long has made them complacent.
The slumping Nuggets (46-23), who have lost four straight but maintain a four-game lead in the Western Conference, are winless since a March 6 home victory over the Raptors.
“Right now we’re just in chill mode, and you can’t be in chill mode with 13 games to go in the season,” Malone said. “We’ve got to try to find a way to get our swagger back.”
Malone said several Denver veterans spoke up after the loss, urging the team to play better. Asked whether he thought the Nuggets needed to hear those words, two-time reigning MVP Nikola Jokic was clear, saying: “Yes.”
“Maybe we’ve gotten a little soft with success,” Malone said. “We’ve been on cruise control for so long, No. 1 in the West since like December 15. I just told our players we’ve gotten away from who we are.”
Jokic had 28 points, Michael Porter Jr. added 23 and Aaron Gordon had 18, as the Nuggets lost the opener of a season-high five-game road trip. They have lost four straight for the first time this season.
Denver allowed 49 points in the first quarter, continuing a concerning trend in which the defense has allowed its opponents to score 100 or more points in five straight games, and 120 or more in each of the past three.
The Raptors shot 20-for-28 in the first to lead 49-30 after one and never trailed Tuesday night. It’s the first game all season in which Jokic played and the Nuggets never led, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
“We just dug too much of a big hole and couldn’t climb the mountain from there,” said Denver guard Jamal Murray, who shot 5-for-18 and scored 14 points.
Toronto was up 88-64, its biggest lead of the game, after Pascal Siakam’s basket with 8:16 left in the third. Denver used a 28-10 run to cut the gap to 98-92, but the Nuggets couldn’t keep it up in the fourth.
“When you expend so much energy getting back in the game you have nothing left to finish,” Malone said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.