Mike Malone Rips Nuggets as 'Soft' After Blowout Loss to Kawhi Leonard, Clippers

Tim Daniels@TimDanielsBRFeatured ColumnistFebruary 29, 2020

DENVER, CO - FEBRUARY 23: Michael Malone of the Denver Nuggets stands on the sidelines during warm ups before taking on the Minnesota Timberwolves at Pepsi Center on February 23, 2020 in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Justin Tafoya/Getty Images)
Justin Tafoya/Getty Images

Denver Nuggets head coach Mike Malone said his team played "awful" in a 132-103 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday night at Staples Center.

"We were soft tonight from beginning to end," Malone told reporters. "They didn't feel us on either end. They got whatever they wanted. We couldn't run offense because they took us out of our stuff, and we just allowed them to do it for 48 minutes. They're a good team, but I'm just very disappointed in our competitive spirit and our effort."

Nuggets guard Monte Morris said veteran Will Barton took center stage in the locker room after the game and echoed the coach's sentiments.

"Will had a good speech for us, about five minutes, just about how teams think we're soft, and if they get into us, they can disorient anything we do," Morris said. "Our offense was stagnant from jump. They wasn't feeling us on defense. Going forward, these are the teams we have to beat to be elite. If we talking about championship, we can throw it out the window if we ain't going to show up in those games."

The Clippers outscored Denver in three of the four quarters and tied in the other. They shot 53.9 percent from the field, knocked down 18 threes, won the rebounding battle 46-39 and forced the Nuggets into 14 turnovers. No Denver player finished the night with a positive plus-minus.

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It was total domination, an unexpected one-sided affair in a meeting between two of the top three teams in the Western Conference. The teams are now tied for second at 40-19.

"They sent a message," Malone said. "They came out and hit us in the mouth, and we never responded, and that's the most disappointing thing about it. We came into this game thinking it was just going to be a standard NBA game. They approached this game like something was on the line, and you could tell a difference from the jump ball all the way until the final buzzer."

The Nuggets won the first meeting between the sides in January 114-104. That game was played without Clippers star Paul George, who led all players with 24 points Friday.

"It's not even about how the game plays," George said. "It is about how we are prepared. Going into this morning, we were sharp, we were prepared, we were locked in. There was no slippage in shootaround, and that trickled into the game."

They'll meet again March 18 at the Pepsi Center in Denver to close out the season series.