Thus far, the 2015-16 Denver Nuggets are a one-half basketball team.
If the Nuggets' recent six straight losses had one thing in common - besides the fact that they played superior competition in all of them - it's that the Nuggets only competed for about one half in each game. Something Nuggets head coach Michael Malone couldn't help but notice after the team's home loss to the Tim Duncan / Manu Ginobili -less San Antonio Spurs last Friday night:
"We have to find a way to play for 48 minutes. It's not a 30-minute game. It's not high school anymore. You have to play for 48, and until we do that we're going to continue to lose.''
Check out the Nuggets first half point differential versus their second half point differential during their current six-game losing streak:
11/18 at San Antonio: -7 (first half) / -4 (second half)
11/20 vs Phoenix: +14 (first half) / -21 (second half)
11/22 vs Golden State: -6 (first half) / -7 (second half)
11/24 vs LA Clippers: -6 (first half) / -11 (second half)
11/27 vs San Antonio: -4 (first half) / -7 (second half)
11/28 at Dallas: +4 (first half) / -15 (second half)
And note the complete power outage that has taken place in the second half of each of the six-straight losses:
11/18 at San Antonio: 58 (first half) / 40 (second half) = -18 point differential
11/20 vs Phoenix: 63 (first half) / 44 (second half) = -19 point differential
11/22 vs Golden State: 58 (first half) / 47 (second half) = -11 point differential
11/24 vs LA Clippers: 45 (first half) / 49 (second half) = +4 point differential
11/27 vs San Antonio: 42 (first half) / 38 (second half) = -4 point differential
11/28 at Dallas: 52 (first half) / 29 (second half) = -23 point differential
Over the six straight losses, the Nuggets have averaged a second half versus first half point differential of nearly -12. Not good.
Beyond the basic math involved here, all one needs is the eyeball test while watching these games to see exactly what Coach Malone refers to when he says: "It's not a 30-minute game." Simply put, during this losing streak the Nuggets players have been collectively running out of gas somewhere between halftime and the end of the third quarter and never recover. And running out of gas means not closing out on opposing three-point shooters (hence why the Nuggets are among the NBA's worst at defending the three-ball), missing easy shots and layups (the Nuggets are in the bottom third for field goal percentage) and turning the ball over too much (Nuggets are in the top third here).
That's how you lose six straight.
The low low low point of this ominous trend came Saturday night at Dallas when the Nuggets scored just five - I repeat, five - points in the entire third quarter, tying an NBA record with just three other times as the third-fewest points ever scored in a third quarter and doubling as the best defensive third quarter in Dallas Mavericks history.
In the Nuggets defense, perhaps the reason why they're a one-half team is that they've only played with half a team - literally - for much of the season so far. Starting center Jusuf Nurkic has yet to suit up for action (and may not for another month). Backup center Joffrey Lauvergne missed 13 straight games before playing just eight largely ineffective minutes against the Mavericks on Saturday. Presumed starting two-guard Wilson Chandler hasn't played and won't play for the entire 2015-16 season resulting from his second hip surgery. Chandler's understudy, Gary Harris, was forced to sit out of Saturday's game due to the NBA's concussion protocol. And starting power forward Kenneth Faried missed the most recent games against the Warriors, Clippers and Spurs as he recovers from an ankle sprain.
(And as my Uncle Marty - aka the Nuggets Curmudgeon - likes to point out, even with all those guys the Nuggets are only half a team in the first place.)
Sadly, the Nuggets current six-game losing streak - and propensity to forget how to compete after halftime - could continue for three more games as the Nuggets embark on a tough four-game Eastern Conference road trip this week that includes stops at the Milwaukee Bucks (who will be looking to exact some revenge on the Nuggets after a fluky loss at Denver just a few weeks ago), Chicago Bulls and Atlantic Division-leading Toronto Raptors.
The good news for the Nuggets and their fans is that the fourth stop on this road trip is at 0-18 Philadelphia on Saturday evening, which is not a back-to-back. Although if the Nuggets continue playing as they have through the their last six games, the 76ers first win of their season could come at Denver's expense.