The Nuggets most recent game against the Clippers ended in defeat after Jamal Murray turned the ball over on the final possession, sealing a 122-120 loss in a game where the Nuggets coughed up an 18-point third quarter lead.
According to the last two minute report published by the NBA, the officials missed two calls that disadvantaged the Nuggets - calls that would have improved the Nuggets odds of retaking the lead. The officials missed a foul call on Tobias Harris against Will Barton that would have put Barton at the foul line - instead, LA was able to burn 20 seconds of clock in a three possession game. The officials also missed a reach-in foul on Austin Rivers, who made contact with Murray’s arm and prevented him from controlling the ball.
Watch video of the two plays - you can see both Nuggets players look at the officials in disgust.
While it’s frustrating that the Nuggets put themselves in that position in the first place, it’s a trend that has existed all season of the Nuggets being wronged by the referees. A report by Chris Herring and Neil Paine of 538 detailed the number of incorrect calls for each NBA team. The Brooklyn Nets lead the league in bad non-calls, with 28, followed by the Dallas Mavericks, with 26.
The team ranked third? That’s the reason for this article - your Denver Nuggets, with 24. But wait, there’s more!
Yeah. In hindsight, I think posting the rate(s) would have been helpful to illustrate what it looks like on a normalized scale. pic.twitter.com/uU8tZ3U0mL— Chris Herring (@Herring_NBA) March 2, 2018
The Nuggets lead the league in percentage of plays that are incorrect non-calls. The next closest team are the Nuggets neighbors to the west, the Jazz.
Think about how many times the Nuggets have been robbed by officials who are bad at their job? What would the Nuggets record be if the officials had penalized the other team for not playing by the rules? What is explanation for this?
The NBA thinks the Nuggets are irrelevant
When I lived in NYC, I went to the NBA Store to try to buy some Nuggets swag. At the time, the Nuggets most popular player was Kenneth Faried. When I asked a store employee if they had any Nuggets gear, I was answered with a derisive scoff and the employee walked away. I walked all around the store - nothing.
When Nike got the contract to be the official provider of NBA jerseys, the flagship Nike store in NYC tweeted out a picture of the jerseys of all 29 NBA teams. It was 29 teams, because they put the New Orleans Pelicans jersey out twice. But hey, it’s part of Nugglife, and we got to make this joke.
Is this likely the case? No. Kiki VanDeWeghe is the Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations for the NBA, and made his mark in the league as a player with the Denver Nuggets. I don’t think he’s forgotten that, and I’m sure it’s something he brings up in discussion from time to time.
The refs hate the Nuggets
Okay, but why? Randy Mott ordered a turtleneck from Serbia 15 years ago, and when it showed up, it was in the wrong color and three sizes too small? Doubtful (although that would make me mad).
There are officials that are not as good at their job as other officials. Some officials call tight games. Some officials let players play (re: break the rules). I will admit that an argument that coaches can cultivate respect with the officials, and the officials will give preferential treatment to that coach - how else do you explain Jokic being called for five fouls in the fourth quarter of the Nuggets game against the Spurs? The officials are scared of crossing Gregg Popovich, and the Spurs have developed a reputation that protects and enables them.
I don’t think it’s THE reason why, but I do think it is part of the reason why the Nuggets get done wrong by the officials so often.
This is a young team with an inexperienced coach
The Nuggets core is Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, and Nikola Jokic. Will Barton has a big role. These aren’t established veterans, that have developed a reputation in the league. They are still fighting for respect, tooth and nail, from members of the media all the way to, yes, the officials. Their head coach just won his 100th game as a head coach a few days ago, and he’s still calling timeouts thirty seconds before the end of the third quarter. They’ve got some learning to do.
Sometimes the players put themselves in a position where the officials bailing them out is the only way out of a bad decision. Sometimes they get frustrated, pleading for the referees to understand what happened. In time, they will learn how to talk to the officials, how to point out fouls, and what to do to draw whistles.
Respect is earned
The Nuggets franchise has seven seasons with 50 wins or more. They’ve been to the NBA Finals zero times. They were not good for a long time.
Win enough games to get into the playoffs. Beat the best teams in the league. Run the race that is ahead, and don’t be afraid if things get tough.
Part of that respect comes from being more selective with complaints. The decision by Jokic to complain less to the officials is a smart decision. He’s a young player on his first contract, and he’ll have more respect once he proves, season after season, that he’s the real deal.
Until that time comes, try not to pull out so much hair that you look like Michael Malone after bad calls.