Denver Nuggets head coach Mike Malone was not thrilled after his team’s loss to the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday.
Indeed, the Nuggets were playing without Nikola Jokic and Paul Millsap, their two best players. But the 123-114 letdown drops them to 3-9 on the road, a record he doesn’t deem worthy of a playoff team, per The Denver Post‘s Gina Mizell:
#Nuggets coach Michael Malone after Denver’s loss to Pelicans to drop to 3-9 on the road: “Forget playoffs. That is a word we should not use with this team. Let’s just talk about being real honest — we are a bad basketball team on the road.”
This might be putting it kindly, too.
The Nuggets are being outscored by 9.8 points per 100 possessions when playing away from the Pepsi Center, according to NBA.com—a bottom-five net rating that trails only the Chicago Bulls, Sacramento Kings, Dallas Mavericks and New York Knicks, none of whom profile as a playoff squad. The Knicks are a fringe postseason team at the moment, but their .500 standing is buoyed by a home-heavy schedule. Dallas, Chicago and Sacramento, meanwhile, have 17 wins between them. Five other squads have already tallied that many victories, or more, on their own: Boston Celtics, Golden State Warriors, Cleveland Cavaliers, Houston Rockets and San Antonio Spurs.
Basically, the Nuggets are finding themselves in company they shouldn’t want to keep. And they have no clear path towards an escape. Millsap will be out for a couple months while he recovers from wrist surgery, which has torpedoed the team’s defensive rating, according to NBA.com. And Denver currently doesn’t have a timetable for Jokic’s return from a sprained ankle.
Complicating matters even further: The Nuggets, who have now lost four straight games on the road, have another four hostile-territory tilts on tap before they return home. They’ll face, in order, the Orlando Magic, Indiana Pacers, Detroit Pistons and Celtics. If they’re not careful, and if Jokic remains on the sidelines through this Eastern Conference swing, the Nuggets could find themselves under .500 and out of the Western Conference’s playoff bubble by the time they return to Denver for a Dec. 15 date with the Pelicans.