1983-84 Boston Celtics
When it comes to defense, Kiki Vandeweghe thinks his coach, Doug Moe, and his Denver teammates are getting a bad rap. The Nuggets, who play the Celtics tonight (7:30) at Hartford, are learning gradually the pressure tactics that will help them overcome their fire-and- fall-back reputation. It has not been an easy transition. The Nuggets, whose 123.8 scoring average ranks first in the NBA, also are at the bottom on defense (125.4). The defensive nadir was 156 points in a Nov. 22, 40-point loss to Portland. Moe was fined $5000 by the NBA for telling his players to let the Trail Blazers score late in the game to set a Portland team record.
"Doug is a good coach," says Vandeweghe, the former UCLA star who is off to his finest start, averaging 29.2 points. "He has his own way of doing things. I know he has gotten in trouble for it a couple of times. But one thing for sure is that he really cares about what is happening on the court, and he is willing to stand up for his players. "There is no question about what he was doing (in the Portland game). He was trying to make a point of how badly we were playing defense towards the end of the game. It was a way of doing something that was definitely unorthdox, but obviously we learned a little bit. Since then, our defense has really improved."
Vandeweghe, who is second in the league in scoring to Utah's Adrian Dantley, firmly believes his club isn't far from becoming a consistent winner. The Nuggets are 11-9 after 20 games, having beaten New York and lost by five points to Philadelphia in their most recent outings, both on the road. A year ago, the club was 8-12. The defensive highlight came on Nov. 29 when the Nuggets held a club under 100 points for the onlytime this season. Not only did they beat Atlanta, 105-96, but they did it on the road, ending an eight-game Hawks' winning streak at home. Denver is 4-6 on the road, with wins over Kansas City and Golden State also."We've worked very hard on putting in this pressure type of defense, and it's been good to us," Vandeweghe said.
"We're improved. But not having a big center makes it a little difficult. You can't afford to gamble as much because you don't have somebody in the middle to block shots. "But I think we're a little bit quicker than other teams, and hopefully we can use that to our advantage. At the other end, our quickness makes it very difficult for them to guard us." Offense is something that always seems to come naturally to Doug Moe teams, and Vandeweghe thinks the current team is better than last year's club that finished in a tie for second (45-37) with Kansas City. "We have strength and depth up front this year," he says, "and scoring from the guards, which is something we didn't have last year. Offensively, we're a little more under control." Vandeweghe shares the scoring load with Alex English (24.4), as this year they have shared the leadership role. A year ago, English finished with a 28.4 average to 26.7 for Vandeweghe. The Nuggets are still getting 19 points a night from ageless Dan Issel, who has a good backup in Dan Schayes. With Bill Hanzlik (obtained from Seattle), T.R. Dunn, Rob Williams and Vince Evans, the Nuggets have improved firepower and better depth, particularly on defense.
The idea is not to change the style of offense, but to make sure that things happen so the opposing team can't turn Denver's speed and quickness against them. "What we have to do," says Vandeweghe, "is keep a fast pace and make sure that when we get the ball down on offense, we don't take too quick of a shot or a bad shot. We have to move it around and make sure we get a good shot just about every time."The Nuggets will be heard from this year, according to Vandeweghe. It is Dallas, not San Antonio, that is heading up the Midwest Division. And this figures to be a year of surprises."The Western Conference is more evenly matched," says Vandeweghe. "Some of the poorer teams have done a lot better. Some of the better teams have lost games or are not playing very well. I think it will be a real race down to the end."
Gerald Henderson bruised his right shoulder when he tangled with Indiana's Jerry Sichting Wednesday night. "I feel sore, but I'll be OK," said Henderson. He played only 23 minutes against the Pacers . . . Robert Parish continues toplay a lot. He had 42 minutes Tuesday and is averaging 37.6, six more than last year . . . Kevin McHale hit 12 of 13free throws against the Pacers and is shooting .788 (108 of 137) from the line in 21 games . . . Boston's nine- game November winning streak is the NBA's longest this season . . . The Celtics have been outrebounded only four times in 21 games.