DENVER — Not many things make Doug Moe mad, but show him film of a team standing around on offense, and he cringes.
“I hate that style — the stand and hold, come down one side,” he said. “I don’t like watching it.”
Moe hasn’t had to see much of that since taking a seat on the Denver Nuggets’ bench on Feb. 23.
Moe, an assistant to head coach George Karl, got that seat for two reasons: first, because he provides Karl with unfiltered and welcome input; second, because Karl hates that stand-and-hold offense, too. Both coaches want to see movement and pace in the Nuggets’ offense, and they want to see it all the time.
They want a movement game, not a cure for insomnia.
It’s been hard to get that game going in the first two games of the Western Conference quarterfinals series with San Antonio, but Moe and Karl hope that changes in Game 3 tonight (8:30 p.m. ESPN/Altitude).
The Spurs have contained Denver’s running game so far, but with the next two games at the Pepsi Center, the Nuggets think they can get the pace their way, which allows more players to impact the game and accomplish things in Denver that they couldn’t in San Antonio.
“The pace of the game allows somebody like Wesley Person to get some shots,” Karl said. “The pace gives us more opportunities to find (weapons). They’re going to go to (Tim) Duncan, they’re going to go to (Manu) Ginobili, they’re going to go to (Tony) Parker. We want to keep it at (a faster) pace. They’re probably better off in the half-court game. Everybody knows that.”
The passing game that Karl likes to run is familiar to fans who rooted for the Nuggets in the 1980s. Moe used that style to put up big offensive numbers, but he says the 2005 version is better than any of his units.
“The team with Kiki (Vandeweghe), Alex (English) and Dan (Issel), when they had the team with Calvin Natt, Alex and (Wayne) Cooper and Fat Lever and Michael Adams, it wasn’t as good a shooting team as this,” he said. “This is a better shooting team. That was our best team when we had those guys, and this is a better shooting team.”
Moe said a player like Shaquille O’Neal would work in the uptempo game because he fits the profile of the type of player who can play that game.
“A good player,” Moe said. “You find out those bad players don’t fit this system very good. Then again, they don’t fit most systems very good.”
Don’t confuse what Moe ran and what Karl is trying to run with what the 1990-91 Nuggets did.
Paul Westhead came in and pushed the pace, but he had one big element missing from his game plan.
“He actually had a pretty good concept because he was doing something different,” Moe said. “I like guys who do something different, but he forgot to play any defense. You can’t just totally forget the defense.”
Karl preaches defense with this squad, and he has defensive specialists in Eduardo Najera and Greg Buckner. Defense is the key to get the offense going because it’s easier to run off of a missed shot. Once the post players get a rebound, they’re looking to get the ball to a guard, who in turn looks for a teammate streaking toward the rim.
“Our big guys, not only are they running, they’re doing a great job of outletting the ball,” guard Earl Boykins said. “Even after makes, they’re outletting the ball to half court and throwing a long pass up. We have to give those guys credit for igniting the break.”
When all those elements are working, the Nuggets score a lot of points.
The offense that Karl runs is different from Moe’s passing game, but it still often leads to scoring 110 points.
“He was much more into ball movement and cutting, and we do more two-man situations,” Karl said. “What we’re trying to do is play fast and get good shots quick.”
Like every incarnation of a style, there are tweaks. Moe, who said the origins of his passing game come from schoolyard basketball, learned the passing game from Dean Smith at North Carolina.
“He always thought you had to have five brilliant players to play a total freelance without being set,” Moe said. “You have to have some sort of rules. It kind of evolved from a more-set to an un-set with me. I was comfortable with them running the passing game not knowing what they were going to do, but when you practice, it’s repetition; you tell them what you want to see, so then they do it.”
What Karl wants is to push the pace and, when that isn’t there, run a form of the passing game in the half-court offense.
“Never played it quite like Doug,” Karl said. “Doug did it with ball movement and body movement: You had to cover five or six passes, you had to change your defensive position, you had to run back hard. He had all types of things offensively that could wear you out.”
Moe said he likes Karl’s offense better than his own.
“Ours was total freelance. It’s totally different, because George’s is more specific,” he said. “It’s hard to compare, but I like this style better than I liked my own. What we couldn’t do back then was block shots; we block shots now, and we’re a better rebounding team than we were then. We never got the lobs we get now. We get lob after lob after lob.”
The one thing they have in common is the altitude — Moe tried to take advantage of that edge, and so does Karl.
It was apparent in the 19-1 home record he compiled since taking over the team on Jan. 27.
The Nuggets pushed the ball coming out of the locker room, and by the fourth quarter, opponents were gassed and the Nuggets pulled away.
The only team that has beaten the Nuggets in Denver since January is Phoenix — which also uses a high-octane offense.
“I’m happy Phoenix had success this year. I’m glad we’re having success running and getting things going because it’s more entertaining, fun and effective,” Moe said.
The Spurs are not the Suns, and they will look to turn tonight’s game into a half-court show. With a post player like Duncan to anchor that style, Moe said, it makes sense to play that way.
“If it’s effective for some people, why not use it?” he said. “The Lakers were a great running team with Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar). He wasn’t part of the running. When they didn’t run, they’d set up.”
Don’t look for the Nuggets to play that way anytime soon. They’ll continue to push the pace and try to run teams off the court. If that’s happening, the Nuggets are hard to beat.
“When it’s going well, it’s powerful,” Karl said. “There’s a weight — it’s heaviness that the other team doesn’t know how to slow down. Sometimes they do crazy things like try to outscore us, which I think there’s only about four or five teams right now that can do that.”