DENVER – Jeff Green’s veteran voice is even more vital when it’s coming from the sideline.
Green started his career when the Supersonics were still in Seattle, and 16 seasons and a dozen teams later, he’s providing value for the Nuggets even when he isn’t playing. Green missed the seven games between the Nuggets’ last meeting with the Mavericks before returning for Tuesday’s game against Dallas at Ball Arena. His voice still made an impact when his knee contusion kept him off the court.
“(He’s) been on a lot of different types of teams, veteran teams, rebuilding teams, winning teams. He’s somebody that I trust and I go to … especially while he’s been out,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said prior to the game. “When you’re not playing and you’re on the bench, I think you see things through a different lens.”
Despite not playing, Green was on the trip to Atlanta and New Orleans where the banged-up Nuggets fell to shorthanded Hawks and Pelicans squads. He acknowledged there were things within the team’s control that needed to be improved but didn’t sense the need to use his veteran voice to address the team.
“You just feel it. You can feel it in the energy in the room. For us, I think we don’t need to panic,” Green said at the morning’s shootaround. “We care so much. We want to win every game, and one loss seems like it’s five.”
The two-game skid might feel more like 10, maybe more, given the opponents, but the Nuggets entered Tuesday’s game with just nine losses through 23 games, good for fourth in the Western Conference. The aspirations to be top-five defense have not played out, however. Denver’s defense is instead ranked 26th entering Tuesday. Only Orlando, Houston, Detroit and San Antonio – all teams angling to be at the top of NBA Draft – have worse defensive-efficiency rankings.
“It’s still the beginning of the season. People act like the playoffs is right around the corner. We got a lot of new faces on this team. Collectively, I think we just need to buy in on the defensive end,” Green said.
“We’ve got a bunch of talent on the defensive end. It’s just together, we have to buy in as a team, which we will. That takes time.”
The Nuggets prepared for Luka Doncic and the Mavericks with a “very animated film session,” on Monday, according to Malone. The Nuggets coach stressed the importance of Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic also speaking up when they find it necessary, something Green hasn’t to this point.
“It’s been no need to say anything,” Green said. “I think our team knows what we’re capable of, and I think we can right our wrongs.”
Green’s voice returned to its on-court role Tuesday. He hit his first shot back, a 3-pointer from the corner after coming off the bench late in the first and drove baseline for a dunk to start the second. While “Uncle Jeff” hasn’t seen a need to share any wisdom with his younger teammates, Malone knows he can count on the team’s most experienced player to be vocal when needed.
“His voice, he has the respect of the entire locker room. I think when he uses his voice and he steps up, I think it’s critical to our success, and it’s critical to our young players,” Malone said. “If it’s me all the time, that’s cool. We’re only going to be a good team. When our players and our veterans take ownership and leadership, I think that allows you the potential to go much further, much farther and much deeper. That’s what we need.”
MAVERICKS 116, NUGGETS 115
What happened: Luka Doncic scored all eight of his first-quarter points in the final two minutes of the quarter and helped the Mavericks to a 36-29 lead after the opening quarter. The Nuggets turned it over six more times in the second quarter, totaling 11 for the first half, and trailed by six at halftime. The Nuggets started the third quarter on an 11-3 run to regain the lead, but that was short lived after Tim Hardaway Jr. scored nine points in just over a minute, propelling Dallas to a five-point lead to start the fourth. Aaron Gordon returned to a one-point deficit with just under eight minutes to play. The Nuggets hung around until Bruce Brown put the hosts in front with a corner 3 with 37 seconds left. Dorian Finney-Smith answered with a 3 of his own, putting Mavericks up 2, and the Nuggets trailed the rest of the way after Nikola Jokic split his free throws with 12 seconds left. Jamal Murray had a half-court shot at the winner but came up short, and Denver (14-10) dropped three straight for the first time this season.
What went right: Gordon played bully ball, finishing with a team-high 27 points. He made 10 of his 13 shots and 5 of 6 free throws. He added eight rebounds and two assists. The Nuggets also defended Luka Doncic relatively well, as he made just 5 of 17 shots from the field.
What went wrong: After scoring 18 or more points in Denver’s five previous games, Jamal Murray struggled. He made 2 of 11 shots from the field and scored seven of his 11 points at the free throw line. The Mavericks’ shooters also made the Nuggets pay for throwing bodies at Doncic. Tim Hardaway Jr. went 6 for 8 from deep in a 29-point night. Dorian Finney-Smith made 5 of of 10 and finished with 19 points.
Highlight of the night: With less than two minutes left in the third, Nikola Jokic used a behind-the-back pass to beat a Dallas double-team and get the ball to a cutting Jeff Green. Green finished and pulled the Nuggets within four. Green also had an impressive dunk in the first half.
On deck: The Nuggets head to Portland for Thursday’s game against the Trail Blazers.