Will Barton now understands Allen Iverson’s infamous “We talkin’ about practice” rant.
“Man, playing 40 (minutes) every night and then you gotta practice?” Barton said. “I might have said that too … Good teams don’t practice during this time of year. You don’t got time for that. You need fresh legs.”
Barton isn’t the only Nuggets player to reach this conclusion. He connects Denver’s recent offensive resurgence to its decline in organized team work on off days. Though schematic and lineup tweaks have also aided the Nuggets’ offensive revitalization during their current 6-2 stretch, coach Michael Malone agrees the lack of practice time has helped.
“As a coach, sometimes you can try to win the battle and lose the war,” Malone said. “(You can say to yourself), ‘I’m bringing them in and we’re working today. We got two hours in.’ Then you come out the next night in a game and you look flat…
“You always have to be aware of where your team is at, what’s coming down the pike and try to help them navigate those rough waters when they present themselves.”
The Nuggets’ last practice was Jan. 26. The Nuggets have had three total practices since a stunning home loss to Phoenix on Jan. 19. Since then, Denver has posted the best offensive rating in the NBA (113.9 points per 100 possessions) while ranking sixth in the league in field-goal percentage (48.1) and third in assists (28.1 per game). They’ve been particularly hot from beyond the arc, ranking third in 3-point field-goal percentage (40.7) and twice reaching a season-high for makes in a game (18).
Those statistical surges also link up with when Malone vowed to stop calling so many plays, allowing the Nuggets’ offense to return to a more free-flowing style that thrives on pace, ball movement and cutting. When Denver’s offense took a January downturn, there were plenty of times Malone thought his players took good shots that just did not fall. The Nuggets looked tired for much of the month, like a team fighting through the physical and mental fatigue of the midseason grind.
While setting up practice schedules, Malone works closely with director of sports medicine Steve Short on how to best utilize players’ energy and time. January’s schedule included four sets of three games in four nights and four road games coming on the second night of a home-road back-to-back set. Morning shootarounds became the most prominent forum for on-court work, with off days featuring more film sessions, rest and recovery.
“Everybody’s been playing fresh and playing fast,” said leading scorer Gary Harris, who is averaging 20 points while shooting 46.3 percent from the floor over his last eight games. “Maybe we might have caught onto something right there.”
As Malone revealed following Monday’s win against Charlotte that his players had concluded that their uptick in shooting percentage was due to the dwindling practice time, veteran Richard Jefferson happened to overhear while walking by the media scrum.
“It’s the truth!” Jefferson yelled.
The Nuggets did not practice Tuesday.