DENVER | The Denver Nuggets woke up out of first place in the Western Conference for the first time in 2019.
Arriving at work on Wednesday, a stark reminder of just why awaited: Watching the footage of Golden State hitting 21 3-pointers.
It wasn’t fun viewing.
The playoff-contending Nuggets learned a hard truth in a 142-111 loss to the Warriors in which they allowed an NBA-record 51-point first quarter and all those 3-pointers: They still have plenty of work to do.
“This was not a blame day,” coach Michael Malone said after a lively practice that followed the film session. “This was not anything of the sort. It was to watch film, to learn from it, to get better.
“If we want to be the team we all talk about being, we have to learn from this.”
In a playoff-like atmosphere Tuesday and in front of a capacity crowd at the Pepsi Center, the Nuggets couldn’t raise their game .
On the other side, the occasion brought out the best in the Warriors.
“We don’t have that level yet,” said Malone, whose team is trying to make the postseason for the first time since 2012-13. “We’re trying to find and see if we have that level.
Championship teams have that level. We’re aspiring to be that type of team. That’s why I think failure can be a gift, if you’re willing to learn from it. That’s my hope.”
Regroup. Get back to work.
“It’s not the end of the world at all,” said guard Malik Beasley, whose squad hosts Chicago on Thursday and Cleveland on Saturday — two teams at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. “We’re going to bounce back and get first place again. That’s what we’re looking for. It’s always good to have a challenge.”
At 18-4, Denver boasts one of the league’s top home marks even on the heels of its biggest home loss since March 28, 2014. The 142 points were the most the Nuggets have allowed in a non-overtime game since Nov. 9, 2010.
As for their perimeter defense, which allowed 10 3-pointers in the first quarter, they’re chalking it up — to a degree, anyway — as just one of those nights against the torrid shooting of Klay Thompson, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant, who went a combined 18 of 28 from long range.
“That’s a really good team. That’s why they are back-to-back champions,” big man Nikola Jokic said. “We need to learn from them.”
The Warriors sang the praises of the Nuggets heading into the contest, with Durant saying: “They’re not an up-and-coming team anymore. Just look at them as one of the elite teams.”
Only, they didn’t play like it.
“We have to get better approaching games like this with a different mentality,” forward Paul Millsap said. “Sometimes it takes a 30-point beating to understand that and get it.”
The Nuggets remain a work in progress given all their ailments. The opening night lineup of Gary Harris, Jamal Murray, Will Barton, Millsap and Jokic has only started two games together due to injuries. Harris is currently sidelined with tightness in his left hamstring.
“I don’t know who we are when we’re whole,” Malone said. “I do know this: When we haven’t been whole, we’ve been a good team.”
With a 29-14 mark, the Nuggets are tied for the second-best NBA start in franchise history.
They’ve knocked off the likes of Golden State (earlier in the season), Boston and Toronto (twice). That’s why the Warriors’ dominating performance, more succinctly the 51-point first quarter, was so “mindboggling” to Malone.
“I can’t wrap my head around that number,” he said.
Neither can his players. But Malone had them watch the film again, just to make sure those sort of breakdowns don’t become a habit. In fairness, they were playing a Warriors team that proved a point even while they said they weren’t trying to prove anything.
“We were No. 1 in the West, so they were going to come in and have something to prove and come in and play like defending champs,” Murray said. “We weren’t ready to defend that spot.”