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Behind enemy lines: What the Denver Nuggets’ film session revealed after their big Game 2 loss to the Utah Jazz

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Utah Jazz forward Royce O’Neale (23) passes the basketball against Denver Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. (1) and center Nikola Jokic (15) in Game 2 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series, Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Kim Klement/Pool Photo via AP)

AP

SALT LAKE CITY — Denver Nuggets coach Mike Malone approaches film sessions with tough love.

He doesn’t mince words and he tells it like it is.

“My film sessions are very pointed. It’s direct, it’s honest, it’s holding people accountable,” he said on Thursday. “This is the playoffs. Put your feelings to the side and be a grown (expletive) man.”

Jazz-Nuggets playoff schedule

(3) Denver Nuggets

vs. (6) Utah Jazz

Game 1

Nuggets 135, Jazz 125 (OT)
Game 2

Jazz 124, Nuggets 105
Game 3

Jazz 124, Nuggets 87
Game 4

Jazz 129, Nuggets 127
Game 5

Nuggets 117, Jazz 107
Game 6

Nuggets 119, Jazz 107
Game 7

Nuggets 80, Jazz 78, Nuggets win series 4-3

That’s not to say Malone wants to kick his players while they’re down. He’s very aware of his communication style and how he has to massage certain relationships and what it takes to make sure his team has the right mindset heading into a playoff game.

“Then you take the guys one-on-one and you build them up and talk to them and tell them the positive things that they’re doing and how they can be better and how important they are to our team,” he said. “I just know that for me, as disappointed as I was after (the Game 2 loss to the Utah Jazz), I’ve got to make sure that after we’ve shown the film and held people accountable and been very direct ... to be positive and have good energy coming out of that.”

Unfortunately there was a lot on Thursday to be direct about and a lot of mistakes for Nuggets players to own.

In going over the game film from the 124-105 loss to the Jazz, Malone had very little to be happy about. Utah was not afraid to make contact, and the Nuggets were making too little contact. There were communication breakdowns in pick-and-roll defense that resulted in double-digits for the Jazz. There were missed opportunities, lapses in judgement, stagnant offense and a whole host of problems.

Denver had a game plan and didn’t execute it. The Nuggets went into the contest with the knowledge that the Jazz lead the league in drives per game and are second in the league in pick and rolls per game, and yet they didn’t effectively defend either.

“I’ll be honest, I don’t think any of us played well yesterday,” Malone said.

As it has been for much of this season with the Nuggets, the defense was subpar at best. While Malone has addressed the defensive issues with his team in many film sessions, what Thursday’s session revealed was the most frustrating part for the head coach.

“The issue with our defense right now is that we’re giving up everything,” he said.

The Jazz were hot from 3-point land, they were scoring in the paint with ease and they were grabbing offensive rebounds with little resistance.

“We have to take two of those three away,” Malone said. “We can’t give the Utah Jazz everything, and that’s what they’re getting right now.”

The Nuggets aren’t expecting to go from the worst defensive team in the bubble to the best, but they do expect to be able to stop some of the bleeding. It’s very likely that if they put more pressure on the perimeter that the Jazz will still have an easy time scoring in the paint, but the Nuggets at that point have to take away second-chance opportunities.

If they close down the paint, they realize that could hurt them from the perimeter. But, no matter what, they can’t allow the Jazz to have their run of the floor while putting up very little fight.

“The proof will be in the pudding tomorrow,” Malone said. “We can talk about it. We’ve got to start being about it.”