Why wait? Malone wants better starts by Nuggets

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DENVER — On the way to their NBA championship last season, the Denver Nuggets were also widely renown for having arguably the best starting five in basketball.

Minnesota Timberwolves coach Chris Finch said as much before his team’s 106-99 Game 1 victory Saturday, calling the Nuggets’ first unit “probably the most complete and complementary starting five in the league.”

But Denver’s starters haven’t been getting off to great starts this postseason, and Nuggets coach Michael Malone said that needs to change.

“We have to do a better job, our starters in particular, have to do a better job of being ready to play and setting the tone early,” Malone said after the Nuggets’ film session on Sunday. “What are we waiting for? I mean, now we’re down 0-1, what are you waiting for?”

In the Nuggets’ first-round matchup with the Los Angeles Lakers, they were outscored in the first quarter in four of the five games and were minus-23 in the quarter overall for the series.

In the first quarter of Game 1 to start their second-round series against Minnesota, the Nuggets actually outscored the Wolves 25-23, but only after falling behind 18-4 and needing to expend energy to rally back into it.

“I talked to our players this morning about how for five games against the Lakers, we were down [virtually] every first quarter,” Malone said. “So, do I believe that our guys are fully ready to give whatever it takes to try to defend our title? Of course I do. But at some point, man, you got to stop doing the same thing.”

One of the Nuggets who got off to an underwhelming start against Minnesota was point guard Jamal Murray. After coming into the game questionable because of a left calf strain that he suffered against the Lakers, Murray was scoreless in the first half, going 0-for-5.

When asked what the Wolves did to lock him up in the early going, Murray replied, “Nothing, I’ve been scoreless plenty of times before.”

He finished with 17 points — shooting 6-for-9 in the second half — and played 34 minutes.

I’m good,” Murray said when asked about his health. “How [many] minutes did I play? It was good enough.”

As the questions continued about his calf injury, Murray refused to acknowledge any limitation.

“I’m not going to make no excuses, bro,” Murray said. “Everybody has got nagging injuries. Everybody is playing through something at this point of the season. My calf is no different than anybody else on the team or in the league, honestly. Obviously, it sucks, but it’s not something that I enjoy talking about as part of the loss.

“It’s going to be a part of [the playoff run], and I’ve accepted that and there’s counters for everything. So I just got to keep adjusting, we got to keep adjusting and find ways to get it done. I don’t know, man. The calf is whatever it is.”

Last spring, the Nuggets never trailed in a series, and they didn’t lose a home game until the NBA Finals. Now they’re down after giving away home-court advantage to open up the conference semifinals.

“This year is different,” Malone said. “It’s a different team. It’s a different setup. And now it’s a new challenge. So let’s embrace that.

“We are down. We didn’t want to be, but we are. So let’s fight like hell tomorrow night and leave it all out there.”

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