DENVER (AP) – Brian Shaw found himself in a downright defensive mood at practice.
So for nearly two hours Tuesday, the first-year Denver Nuggets coach had his team work on nothing but defense and defense and more defense.
A training camp style of practice as Shaw described it. Anything to get the Nuggets going again.
Because these days, very little seems to be working. Even the return of point guard Ty Lawson on Monday against Minnesota couldn’t snap the Nuggets out of their funk. They’ve now dropped six in a row and 11 of their last 12.
Even more, the Nuggets have tumbled 10 games back in the race for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Time is rapidly running out, too, with just 23 contests remaining for the Nuggets to find some answers and avoid missing the postseason for the first time since 2003.
And that’s precisely why Shaw took the time Tuesday to simplify things, most notably on the defensive end. From now on, guards will no longer go under the play in pick-and-roll situations.
Sure, that’s a seemingly innocuous thing, but it was causing all sorts of angst.
Oh, and the centers – that’s basically Timofey Mozgov – will protect the basket more and come out to challenge shots less. As for the power forwards, well, they will hedge on screens and force opposing players to one side, Shaw explained.
“Hopefully, this will kind of eliminate the confusion we’ve been having,” said Shaw, whose team hosts Dallas on Wednesday. “I expect to see significant progress (Wednesday), because we’ve eliminated a lot of the doubt.”
The players were actually in a jovial mood after practice, many trying to quickly exit the Pepsi Center to avoid the concert traffic (Miley Cyrus was performing later that evening).
While Lawson conducted an interview, guard Nate Robinson, who’s out for the season with a torn ACL, sauntered over and, with a recorder in hand, began asking Lawson questions.
“How did your ribs feel last night?” Robinson asked Lawson, who returned to the floor after missing nine games with a fractured rib.
“Rib’s feeling all right,” said Lawson, who scored a season-high 31 points and dished out 11 assists in the loss to Minnesota.
“Well, welcome back,” Robinson said before heading for the locker room.
“Thank you,” Lawson quickly responded.
See, the losing streak isn’t weighing on them – much.
“Just have to play harder, harder on defense,” Lawson said. “Come out with a sense of urgency.”
The team figured there might be some growing pains with Shaw taking over after the departure of long-time coach George Karl. But this hasn’t been the kind of season the Nuggets envisioned, especially after winning a franchise-best 57 games in the regular season last year.
Then again, the Nuggets have been plagued by injuries all season. One of their leading scorers from a season ago, Danilo Gallinari, hasn’t seen the court because of a balky knee and their athletic big man, JaVale McGee, has missed a bulk of the year with a left tibia stress fracture.
Shaw took the time to shore up some of the defensive deficiencies, just to get everyone on the same page again.
“I always end up equating a lot of things to my kids,” Shaw said. “If you have multiple kids and you say, `Hey, where do you guys want to go for dinner tonight?’ All of them are going to say something different. You’re in a position where you’ve got to choose and two of them are going to be upset, because one of them got their way.
“Now, we have a standard way of doing it. Now, everyone has to do it that way.”
By PAT GRAHAM, AP Sports Writer
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