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Roundtable: Jusuf Nurkic, dwindling playoff dreams and coach Malone’s performance

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Making sense of the fallout

NBA: Washington Wizards at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Is there any way in your mind the Denver Nuggets can still make the playoffs?

Ryan Blackburn (@RyanBlackburn9): There is still a chance, would be lying if I said the chance that they do have is very likely. The Portland Trail Blazers play the tougher teams down the stretch, while the Nuggets go on the road for more games. Denver needs to make up two full games on Portland, meaning that they likely have to go 7-1 or 8-0 just to have a chance. Stranger things have happened, but I have very little confidence in this Nuggets team to actually meet those expectations.

Ashley Douglas (@AshleyNBAHoops): I am typically pretty optimistic but as I see it, there is no chance the Nuggets make the playoffs for a few reasons. First, the Nuggets have a tougher schedule than the Trail Blazers simply because they will be traveling more. Also, their game continues to be inconsistent. If they were to have a chance at making the playoffs, they would need to immediately find consistency which I believe is unlikely. Lastly, the post game interviews after Tuesday’s game were very telling. Not only are the Nuggets struggling with defense and consistency, but it appears they are having some pretty serious internal strife between coach and players which can never produce a winning environment unless those things are worked out.

Evan Fiala (@eefiala): There’s always a chance, but it would take a miracle for that to happen and the Nuggets I know aren’t consistent enough to pull it off. I hope the players are fired up after Jusuf Nurkic manhandled them and they come out strong the rest of this road trip, but it also wouldn’t surprise me if they folded.

Adam Mares (@Adam_Mares): This question is loaded because yes, there is a “chance.” But that chance is not very good. Being realistic, the Nuggets would probably need to run the table and I just don’t think that is at all likely. I’m also very curious to see how they come out and compete against the Charlotte Hornets. Spirits seemed pretty down after that Portland game so I don’t know if all of the Nuggets players still have faith enough to compete against a team desperate for a win.

Zach Mikash (@ZachMikash): It’s not over yet, but I think the Nuggets would have to go 7-1, at worst 6-2, down the stretch to be able to pass Portland. How many times this season have we said something to the effect of “if the Nuggets can just put together a stretch of good games” or “with a little consistency they could really seize an opportunity” this season? 74 games into the season and it’s never happened so to pin our hopes on some consistency now with 8 games remaining seems a bit of a fool’s errand. Still, they are mathematically alive and until they’re not there is reason to hold out some hope.

What did you think of Nurkic’s post game comment “I wish those guys a happy summer”?

Blackburn: Good for him. Glad he's confident, but the same guys that came over to congratulate him on an excellent performance after the game are the same ones he's dissing. The playoff picture isn't decided yet, and on the off chance that the Blazers don't make it, I hope he hears about it from every Nuggets player.

Douglas: It’s par for the course for Nurkic. He’s shown a propensity to be immature from day one, and I’m sure he’s been waiting to say that for weeks. Honestly, congratulations to him for getting on with a team that has an incredible backcourt and getting into a new environment where he can have a fresh start. But here’s a word of caution: any person who makes a public comment like had better be ready to back it up, or risk looking very foolish. Sometimes silence speaks louder than words.

Fiala: Don’t care for the comment at all and don’t care about Nurkic at all, either.

Mares: I love it! As a Nuggets fan it sucks. But competition is fun because winning is so great and losing sucks so bad. Unfortunately for Nuggets fans, we are on the bad side of it this time but I love that Nurkic wants to rub it in. Denver plays Portland four times next season and I am going to be hyped for all four of them.

Mikash: I’m with Adam, I love it. Now, does that mean I wasn’t a bit irked when he said it, or I didn’t blast him a bit on Twitter right after? Of course not, it stung, but that’s what makes it awesome. If we’re being honest with ourselves, the Nuggets really have never had a true rival. The Nikola Jokic/Nurkic duel and the Nurkic/Nuggets feud is a great springboard for something like that. So, okay good, shots fired from Juka, he scored a career high and helped get the win in the most important game of the year for the Blazers, he’s earned the right to talk some trash. Now it’s on Denver to get him back on the next one.

At this point would you rather the Nuggets stick with the veterans or should Emmanuel Mudiay, Juancho Hernangomez and Malik Beasley be getting minutes?

Blackburn: I still want to see Denver try and win every game, and I think they do themselves a disservice if they play Mudiay or Beasley at this point. I would still like to see them play Hernangomez though, as it's very possible he steps into a 20 minute per game role next season. He's also good, and he wouldn't have missed as many open jumpers as Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler did Tuesday night. He can contribute now, even in a small role.

Douglas: If the Nuggets plan to keep these guys around then they absolutely need to be getting minutes. Why on earth would the Nuggets spend money on them just to let them rot on the bench? Although I’m still skeptical about Mudiay, I think there is great promise for all the young players on the team, and they will never be ready if they don’t get time on the court with players other than their teammates at practice. Sure, maybe they don’t need to get 30 minutes a game, but 15+ minutes would go a long way to helping them grow and be ready for next season.

Fiala: I’m fine without Mudiay or Beasley getting minutes, but I would like to see more Juancho. He held his own when Gallo/Chandler were out and will likely be a big part of the future. Will he actually get more playing time? I highly doubt it. I think the vets are going to ride out the season, for better or for worse.

Mares: If you mean for the rest of the season, I think you continue to keep the same rotation until you are eliminated. Don’t tank before the curtains closed. But once the team is out of the race, I’d love to see Beasley for 20+ minutes as well as more Jokic-Plumlee lineups with different looks like double high screens and other experiments.

Mikash: So essentially we’re talking benching Jameer Nelson, one of the three vet forwards (Gallo/Chandler/Kenneth Faried) and possibly Will Barton, or extending the rotation to 10 players. I probably maintain status quo for the next 2-3 games. If they’re all wins then you keep rolling with the guys, if you go 1-2 or 0-3 and the energy isn’t there then I think you look at giving some time to the youth. Even if they’re not totally eliminated two or more losses in the next three is a crippling blow. There’s no point to keep playing Jameer if that’s the scenario, who cares if he’s pissed off about it he’s not part of the future. Same goes for Gallo if the team doesn’t have plans to try to re-sign him. Wilson, Barton and Faried you can bench as well, you just have to be cognizant of the bed your making and the fact that you have to sleep in it or move on in the offseason.

How would you grade coach Malone’s performance this season?

Blackburn: C-minus. On one hand, Malone has this team playing better and winning more, and he had the cajones to center the offense around Jokic midseason, which is very difficult for a coach to do. On the other hand, the missteps are glaring. This team SHOULD be better than last year, Jokic SHOULD have been the focal point on game 1, and with a deeper roster than last year, 45 wins should have been possible. There's also the Nurkic situation, and while nobody knows everything, he's dominating in Portland now, not Denver. That's an issue.

Douglas: I’m going to give him a B. It’s easy to be negative after two crushing losses, but we can’t lose sight of the big picture. Malone has really gotten this team playing better this season, and his coaching has helped them discover their identity which is (and should continue to be) running the offense through Jokic. He has put a tremendous amount of effort into molding his young team, and he’s been thorough, albeit overly, with trying new lineups to see which combinations go well together. It’s evident there are some internal issues to work out between his players and him, but when tensions are high those things happen. It’s important not to throw the baby out with the bathwater here. I have tremendous disdain for the league’s practice of hiring, firing and trading away personnel when things get a little tough. Keep in mind that Malone is a young coach himself so he is also growing with his team. The ability to work through problems and come through stronger as a unit is a key component of building a winning organization in any field--especially sports.

Fiala: Yeesh. Nothing higher than a C. He has his moments when I think he’s finally getting it together, but then there are times that I’m just left scratching my head. He’s done a good job turning this team around, but I just can’t get over that it’s been 74 games and he still can’t figure out his rotation. Plus a lot of his defensive schemes and in-game adjustments have been questionable. Also, he probably could have handled the Nurkic thing better but I’m not convinced it would have made a difference. In short, I think he’s a good coach but I don’t think he’s helped this team realize its overall potential.

Mares: There were some successes and generally speaking I like Malone. But this season he will be remembered for his failures as he will his successes. His inability to connect with Nurkic cost the Nuggets. Maybe Nurk was unreachable given the circumstances but my belief is that almost anyone is reachable. And one of my complaints about Nurk as a player was that he posted up too much and wouldn’t vacate the paint. He’s corrected both issues in Portland so what gives? Malone also tinkered with rotations so much that I think it frustrated everyone on the roster. I’ve got to give him a C. Could’ve been lower but admittedly, he had an incredibly tough job having to balance youth development with keeping vets happy with trying to win and make the playoffs. A nearly impossible task.

Mikash: I’m a solid B on this. The team has improved in record each of his two seasons. Gary Harris and Jokic have blossomed under his tutelage. He’s dealt with a myriad of injuries as well as a handful of disgruntled vets (granted he had a hand in disgruntling them) and he’s got the team fighting for a playoff spot right down to the very end. The method has sometimes been peculiar but the results have been there, even if Mudiay and Nurkic haven’t worked out. Do I wish he had gone with Jokic from the get go? Yes, but who knows what other voices played a factor in that decision. Coach has definitely done enough to be back next year, but I will say the 2017-2018 season is going to be a prove it season for him, without a record above .500 and a playoff birth next year coach could very well be on the hot seat.