Malone: Late-arriving shoes not why Nuggets lost



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LOS ANGELES — All series, Denver Nuggets coach Michael Malone has been telling his team it needed to get out to better starts. That just because the Nuggets had been able to come back from double-digit deficits in each of the first three games of their first-round playoff series against the Los Angeles Lakers, it didn’t mean they could always turn things around in the second half.

On Saturday, the Nuggets got off on the wrong foot once again. Or rather, a few players actually took the court before Denver’s 119-108 loss to the Lakers in Game 4 of the Western Conference playoffs without any shoes at all because of a mix-up in getting several players’ insoles onto the early bus to the arena, according to a team spokesperson.

“Is it ideal? No,” Malone said. “But hopefully we can figure that out and make sure it never happens again.

“If you want to dig into stuff and say, well, we lost because for some strange reason our players didn’t have their shoes when they got here for their normal warmups, that we had guys out there shooting around with flip-flops, is it ideal? No. But I’m not an excuse guy. And I’m not going to point to the reason we got our butts kicked in the paint because shoes weren’t here. I think that’s a reach, personally.”

Malone was far more concerned with the Lakers’ continued dominance at scoring in the paint — Los Angeles scored 72 paint points in Game 4, its most in a playoff game in the past 25 years, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. It was the second consecutive game the Lakers have topped 70 points in the paint and a marked contrast to the first two games of the series, when they averaged just 46 points in the paint.

The Lakers have done it in a variety of ways, whether by feeding Anthony Davis inside — he’s averaging 30.5 points on 62% shooting for the series — or getting downhill on drives to the basket.

According to Second Spectrum, Los Angeles has made 58 layups or dunks in the past two games, the most over a two-game span since player tracking began in 2013-14. The Lakers’ strategy has also served as a defensive challenge to Denver’s all-world center Nikola Jokic, who had to manage foul trouble in both games in Los Angeles.

The biggest difference Saturday night, though, was that the Nuggets weren’t able to come back after the Lakers built a double-digit lead in the first half.

Denver had crushed the Lakers’ spirits in three consecutive games by rallying in the second half to pull out wins. Game 4 seemed to be following a similar script as Los Angeles built a 13-point halftime lead.

Denver closed to within seven points in the fourth quarter, but this time L.A. had an answer.

“We talked about getting off to a better start,” Denver swingman Michael Porter Jr. said. “It takes a lot of energy to come back from these double-digit leads down 20, down 15, whatever it is. Tonight they did a good job of sustaining it. Whenever we got within 10 or eight, it seemed like they made a 3-pointer or made a big shot. So credit to them.”

Porter was one of the players whose insoles and shoes didn’t make it to the arena on time for his pregame shooting time. He dismissed it as a factor in the team’s loss but acknowledged it wasn’t a great way to start preparing for a closeout game.

“I think the bus that the shoes got loaded onto was the last bus. There was some confusion,” he said. “So all I had was slides. They said we could either skip our warmup or go out there in slides. I kind of knew then that people would probably make a big deal out of it, but it was just because somebody forgot to put the shoes on the right bus.

“It’s frustrating. Pregame routine is very important, but everyone makes mistakes. Everybody’s human, so I’m not too mad.”

Porter hit just four of his 10 shots in the first half but finished 10-for-20 from the field for 27 points on Saturday.

Game 5 is Monday night in Denver.



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