Saturday, May 03, 2008

Mike D'Antoni's Stint with the Denver Nuggets

Truehoop Henry Abbott wrote:

Talk about Mike D'Antoni in Phoenix has been hampered by the common thought that the Bulls -- built for defense, sans a Steve Nash figure -- aren't his kind of team. But I agree with BlogaBull, how do we know what a D'Antoni team looks like? He has had Steve Nash, and has coached a certain way that suits Nash. Without Nash, we don't know squat about what he'd do. Alos, as I have written before, I think a new approach in Chicago could be powerful, and D'Antoni would sure be a new approach.

I think we have an idea what his style will be like without a point guard like Steve Nash based on his one-year stint with the Denver Nuggets.

The San Antonio Spurs bring out the worst in the Denver Nuggets.

After holding the Nuggets to a franchise-low 61 points less than two weeks ago, the Spurs added another black mark to Denver's record book with an 86-65 victory Thursday night.

The 65 points were the fewest Denver has ever scored at home, and the lopsided loss was the third by 20 points or more for the Nuggets this season. All three have come against the Spurs.

"Well, at least we're done with San Antonio for the year," Denver coach Mike D'Antoni said. "It's hard to point to one thing. It was a complete meltdown."

Tim Duncan scored 28 points and David Robinson added 12 points and 13 rebounds for the streaking Spurs, who have won nine straight against Denver and 12 of 13 overall.

Vainly trying to defend both 7-footers, the Nuggets had no answer for San Antonio's inside game. Denver shot 31 percent from the field and were outscored 44-20 in the paint.

"They're kind of undersized," Robinson said. "They start two forwards at 6-9 and then a center at 6-7, so there are tough matchups for them. They're athletic, but at the same time, it's hard shooting over 7-footers every time you turn around."

Sounds familiar? Let's see... a 6-7 guy playing center? Let's check the roster. Hmmm... must be this guy.

But D'Antoni's team was very athletic and they like to run. Before Nash and Amare, Mike had Nick Van Exel and super-athlete Antonio McDyess in Denver as "the hip-hop Stockton and Malone." Did not work as well though.

This was the starting five Dantoni used for most of the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season:

Antonio MyDyess5050
Nick Van Exel5050
Chauncey Billups4541
Danny Fortson5038
Bryant Stith4632

D'Antoni also like shooting big guys like Raef Lafrentz, who as a rookie started for the Nugget's first 12 games before suffering a season-ending tear of his left anterior cruciate ligament.

Denver Nuggets 1998-98:

1998-99: Welcome Back, Antonio

Antonio McDyess, who spent his first two NBA seasons with Denver, returned as a free agent after one year in Phoenix and became the centerpiece of a much-improved Nuggets team.

The Nuggets were only 14-36 during the lockout-shortened season. But, under first-year coach Mike D'Antoni, they posted more victories in 50 games than they did the previous season (11) in 82 games.McDyess, an All-NBA Third Team selection, posted career-highs with 21.2 points, 10.7 rebounds, 2.3 blocks and 1.46 steals per game. Point guard Nick Van Exel, a 1998 All-Star who was acquired in a trade with the Lakers, averaged 16.5 points and 7.4 points.Danny Fortson averaged 11.6 rebounds (fourth in NBA) and led the league with 4.2 offensive boards per game. Denver native Chauncey Billups returned home in a trade with Toronto and was third on the Nuggets in scoring (13.9 ppg).Denver's frontcourt was depleted by injuries to a pair of rookies. Starting center Raef LaFrentz averaged 13.8 points and 7.6 rebounds in the first 12 games before a knee injury sidelined him for the rest of the season. Keon Clark missed the final 20 games because of a partially collapsed lung.The Nuggets played their final season at McNichols Sports Arena, their home since 1975. They would move into the brand-new Pepsi Center in 1999-2000.

UPDATE: Feb. 5, 1999: Running game's not Moe's, it's D'Antoni's

Running game's not Moe's, it's D'Antoni's

By Vicki Michaelis
Denver Post Sports Writer

Feb. 5 - The running game is close to becoming a running joke in Denver.

So many have tried and so many have failed that when another new Nuggets coach comes along and promises to play uptempo, fans wait for the punch line.

Where is Doug Moe when you need him?

Moe is in San Antonio, playing golf and taking his grandkids to the zoo. The last coach to have consistent success with the running game in Denver is retired.

And he believes the running game should be, too.

"It's a concept that's past its time,'' he said. "If you're really going to run, you're going to have to push it every day, not just in games but in every practice. Nobody does that.''

Meet Mike D'Antoni. He's going to try.

D'Antoni played college ball at the birthplace of the fast break, Marshall University. He often pushed the pace as a point guard in his pro playing days. The Italian League teams he coached ran more than they walked and won much more than they didn't.

Now D'Antoni, Denver's new coach, has the Nuggets sounding in scrimmages like a thundering herd and has their post-practice locker room looking like a trash heap of worn-out players, all slumping in their chairs.

D'Antoni, early in his pro career, played for Moe for a few months in San Antonio. But he was hurt most of that time, plus he had been sold on the running game long before he met Moe. So he developed his system independent of Moe.

Moe predicated his offense on a pure passing game - which last season's Nuggets coach, Bill Hanzlik, tried. D'Antoni, however, will have set plays, off which the Nuggets can spin some spontaneity.

"I try to have some structure in it,'' D'Antoni said. "It's like doing a dance. I put the feet out, so you can follow the dance steps. And (Moe) just says, "Go dance.' That's the main difference.''

D'Antoni wants his team to play pressure defense, to create turnovers that feed the running game. He also wants his players to know their basketball as well as Moe's squads did.

Both he and Moe said the most important part of a successful running game is having a point guard who can play in the open court and push the pace. The Nuggets have that in Nick Van Exel, who said he "feels great'' playing in this system.

Moe added that the coach of a running-game offense needs to be a special breed.

"You have to have someone who's a little off the wall, to get into it to a degree where it's going to work,'' Moe said.

D'Antoni has confidence in the fact that he's already made it work in Italy. He's also undaunted by the failure of those coaches who have run out of success or even patience with the running game in seasons past.

"That doesn't mean the running game doesn't work. That just means that group of people just didn't run it. I'm not criticizing the coaches, but, for whatever reason, they couldn't get their system in,'' D'Antoni said.

Nuggets coaches before D'Antoni have hailed the running game as a way to take advantage of Denver's mile-high altitude. D'Antoni downplays that as his reason for wanting to resurrect it, simply saying: "That's how you play basketball. It's fun for the fans.''

On that point, he and Moe agree. Moe called the altitude advantage of the running game "one of the great myths of all time.''

"It probably gives you a little advantage in Denver, but only psychologically. Physically, it doesn't,'' Moe said.

The real advantage of the running game, Moe said, is that it allows teams to close the talent gap between them and their opponents.

"You've got to do something if you're not as good as the other guys,'' Moe said.

He's just not sure the running game is the way to do it any more.

The running game, also successfully run at a mile high by Larry Brown, seems to share an identity with basketball in Denver. Moe figures that's why seemingly every new Nuggets coach promises to play it.

"I don't know why they bother to, really - and that's not in a negative way,'' he said. "I just feel in a lot of situations they feel they have to say they're going to run.''

D'Antoni appears to mean it. And, at least one veteran of Denver's run-down renditions of the running game said he believes this year's Nuggets finally will deliver on the promise.

"I know in the past we always started the season by saying we're going to run,'' Nuggets guard Bryant Stith said, "but we often reverted back to the halfcourt offense because we just didn't take care of the ball in the open court and, for one reason or another, we didn't have guys who continuously pushed the pace for the 48 minutes. But I think that has changed.''

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