For Nuggets, Wins Starts With Defense

"Tyreke Evans, Wilson Chandler"For all the talk about the Nuggets struggling on offense, no one points out the Nuggets have been so bad defensively in their poor start to the season so far. They were often outworked on the defensive end, and they were pushed around. They were standing around on defense. They displayed how soft they were in the first few weeks of the season.

That bothered Nuggets head coach Brain Shaw last week, and that’s why he finally went off last week after the Nuggets gave up 130 points to a tired Blazers team coming off the first of a back-to-back game last week. He did not like how the Nuggets were going at it defensively, so he had them worked hard on practice during the road trip.

The hard work paid off by the way the Nuggets played defense last night, and that’s why Shaw found this win to be rewarding. The Nuggets head coach thought the defense set the tone in the Nuggets’ 117-97 victory over the Pelicans at the Pepsi Center.

Here are the numbers that reflect how good the Nuggets were on defense:  41 rebounds, 33 defensive rebounds, eight offensive rebounds, eight steals, and 10 blocks. It’s those numbers on the stat sheet that compelled Shaw to talk about how good his team’s defense was.

The Nuggets were quick to the ball when it came to getting rebounds. They forced the Pelicans to turn the ball over, and they were able to negate the Pelicans’ shots by blocking them. They never gave their opponent a chance for second-chance scoring.

It was the Nuggets’ big men that set the tone on defense for four quarters.

Kenneth Faried played physical against Anthony Davis, and he was able to frustrate him often by forcing him to take bad shots. Yes, the Pelicans star scored 18 points, but he had to earn every of those points. He had a hard time making jump shots or getting the points from the second quarter. After scoring 10 points in the first quarter, he scored eight points on 4-of-5 shooting the rest of the game.

In so many ways, JaVale McGee set the tone to win. His defense help set up the Nuggets on offense when he was able to get blocks and rebounds and dish the ball out to guys like Wilson Chandler, Arron Afflalo and Faried.

For all the talk about how the Nuggets need to run, run and run, what people forget is they need to play defense to set up fastbreak points. One of the reasons they have a hard time running their offense is because defense hasn’t set plays for the offense.

It was telling when Nuggets assistant coach Lester Conner told Altitude’s Blake Olson at halftime that the offense was good because the defense dictated the offense. There’s something to be said about that based on how a basketball player can be in a position to be open when his teammate throws it to him from long distance after getting a block or rebound.

The Nuggets were able to run as a result of their defense setting up fastbreak points. They scored 12 fastbreak points.

There’s no question the offense has struggled, but shots fluctuate from a hit or miss standpoint. Shaw knows the offense will come. What he wants to see is guys get at it on defense. He knows defense comes from hard work and will, and it’s something that he address with the players at practice since he became the Nuggets coach.

Recently, he and his staff have worked the Nuggets hard on defense. They challenged their players to hold opponents to 24 points per quarter. Mission accomplished. They held the Pelicans to 24 points in the third and fourth quarter, and they held their opponent to 23 points in the second quarter. Overall, they gave up an average of 24 points in this contest.

It’s easy to tell that Shaw has worked the guys on defense when McGee was proactive and aggressive when it came to getting to loose balls last night. It was not one of those things where it was a coincidence for the struggling Nuggets center.

Shaw would love to see consistency on offense, but he’s more concerned about his team’s defense. He has to like what his team has done from the defensive end.

While the second-year Nuggets coach doesn’t know what to expect from his players on offense based on their inconsistency, he expects effort and hard work on defense every game.

Shaw hopes the players learn good things happen when they play defense. The three-game winning streak illustrates his point.

It will be interesting if they can sustain this defensively. If they do, maybe the Nuggets could be on to something.

Time will tell.

Contact or Follow Leslie Monteiro :@LightRodWriter

Leslie Monteiro

Leslie Monteiro

Leslie is a contributor for Lightning Rod Sports. He covered high school sports in Bergen County out in North Jersey, and has written op-ed columns on sports such as Bleacher Report and NY Sports Digest.

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