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FAST BREAK TO NOWHERE
Hank Hersch
November 26, 1990
Denver's hurry-up offense and pressure defense have set the Nuggets to running—and their foes to romping
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November 26, 1990

Fast Break To Nowhere

Denver's hurry-up offense and pressure defense have set the Nuggets to running—and their foes to romping

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Welcome to the wild and warped world of the Denver Nuggets, where no shot is bad, no motion is slow and no record is safe. The intent of the Nuggets' first-year coach, Paul West-head, who has installed a radical, run-at-all-costs offense and a costs-a-lot-defense, is to render opponents aimless and breathless, but so far his scheme has left Denver going nowhere fast. As of Sunday, the Nuggets had a 1-8 record, had allowed an average of 146.9 points a game and had elicited more sneers than cheers. "Ugly," San Antonio coach Larry Brown has said of Westhead's system. "Monotonous," says Phoenix forward Tom Chambers. "Crap-a-doodle," says former NBA and ABA coach Alex Hannum.

Newspapers in other league cities have taken to printing the local team's scoring records in advance of games against the Nuggets for ready reference; at least nine NBA scoring records have fallen in games involving Denver. There is no question that the Nuggets' frenetic, full-court style and the resultant orgy of points have made them the most talked-about curiosity to hit pro ball since Julius Erving began jamming in the pre-cable TV days of the ABA. Here's what some say the Nuggets are like:

?To play against. Phoenix guard Kevin Johnson, who had just shredded the Denver press for 23 points and 17 assists in a 173-143 Sun win on Nov. 10, lay spent before his locker and, gesturing to his rib cage, said: "I got a side cramp, like the kind you get from running when you're a little kid." And when did you get it, KJ? "In the second quarter. You laugh, but that quarter was 16 miles long."

?To watch. Erstwhile San Antonio gunner George (Iceman) Gervin said, after witnessing the Spurs' 161-153 victory over Denver on Nov. 7, "I would have come out of retirement for that one."

?Not to watch. In the second quarter of the game with Phoenix, Nugget forward Walter Davis cut his elbow and left the floor with Denver trailing 50-37; eight minutes later, when he returned from the locker room, the Nuggets were down 88-52. This puzzled Davis: "I came back in and said, 'What happened?' "

?To coach against. The Portland Trail Blazers' Rick Adelman said before a Nov. 13 game with the Nuggets, "It scares you because you don't know what to expect." After the Blazers won 155-129, he added, "It's really a hard game to play. It's hard to explain."

?To referee. Hugh Evans, after listening to a cornetist's rendition of the national anthem before the game between Denver and the Suns: "I may need that guy's lungs before the night's over."

?To describe. Jeff Kingery, the Nuggets' radio voice, who uses a glass of water per quarter to cool his pipes: "Basically, you have to keep going until you get a foul and catch your breath."

?And to play for. Davis, who was averaging 25.3 points through Sunday, says: "It's mind-boggling to see the faces of the guys on the other team when they have no idea what to do. In the first half against San Antonio [which ended with Denver leading 90-83], I've never played on a team that played that well." Says guard Todd Lichti (19.3 points a game), "When our offense gets going, it's like playing on a Sunday afternoon. You shoot it when you catch it." Says forward Orlando Woolridge (29.3), "After the game, I'm like, Where's my room? I see my bed and I say, 'Hi, bed. Here I come.' I've found out lying in bed is very underrated."

The Nuggets are using the same catalytic-conversion style that Westhead developed at his last lab, Loyola Marymount. The strategy—use constant backcourt pressure to force the pace, sprint in transition to designated spots on every possession, and throw up shots at a glimpse of the rim, ideally within seven seconds—is not unique, but the lengths to which Westhead carries it are.

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