Michael Malone Has Simple Message for Nuggets Ahead of Game 3 vs. T-Wolves

Expectations are not being met in Denver.
Mar 31, 2024; Denver, Colorado, USA; Denver Nuggets head coach Michael Malone speaks to the media
Mar 31, 2024; Denver, Colorado, USA; Denver Nuggets head coach Michael Malone speaks to the media / Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets, down 2–0 in the best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal series against the Minnesota Timberwolves, are facing their mortality head-on, but coach Michael Malone wants to keep things in perspective.

Speaking to the media ahead of a critical Game 3, Malone said he emphasized the "reigning champs" identity with the team, encouraging them to remember who they are to ensure the team's on- and off-court actions align with that honorable distinction.

"We were disappointed with the—not on the court but off the court—our reaction to the adversity. I've never seen that in my nine years and the first time in our last six years of making the playoffs. How as things got tough, we just kind of fell apart and kind of separated. And as we all know, you can't do that. That's when you have to come together."

Malone was not explicit about what off-court habits he observed, but guard Jamal Murray notably caught scrutiny for throwing a heat pack from the sidelines in the direction of an official during Game 2.

The reality, though, for Malone and the Nuggets is that becoming a trophy-winning fixture in the NBA is difficult to do. Since the 1999-2000 season, only four teams have won a Larry O'Brien Trophy more than once, with seven teams winning it once and only once in that time period. Winning a title is hard, winning multiple times in a generation is even harder.

The Nuggets would prefer to become more like the Lakers, Spurs, Heat, and Warriors, but looking at recent history, several teams have struggled to get back to the summit after a title win. Neither the Milwaukee Bucks nor Toronto Raptors—the last two new franchises in the 21st century to win a trophy—have gone past the semifinals since winning their titles in 2021 and 2019, respectively.

On one hand, Malone is right, the Nuggets are the defending champs, and there is some notoriety and pride that comes along with that. On the other hand, that title is transient, and the Nuggets are seeing it slip further and further out of their grip.

Malone was wise to point out that in the 2020 NBA Playoffs, the Nuggets came back from two 3–1 deficits, so a 2–0 deficit might have them down, but not necessarily out just yet.

Game 3 on Friday night will help show just how good a job Malone got that message across to his team.

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Josh Wilson


Josh Wilson is the News Director of the Breaking & Trending News Team at Sports Illustrated. Before joining the SI team in 2024, Josh worked for FanSided in a variety of roles, most recently as Senior Managing Editor of the brand’s flagship site. He has also served as a general manager of Sportscasting, the sports arm of a startup sports media company, where he oversaw the site’s editorial and business strategy. Josh has a Bachelor’s degree in mass communications from the State University of New York at Cortland and a Master’s degree in accountancy from the Gies College of Business at the University of Illinois. Josh loves a good nonfiction book and enjoys learning and practicing Polish. He lives in Chicago but was raised in Upstate NY. He spent most of his life in the Northeast and briefly lived in Poland where he ate an unhealthy amount of pastries for six months.