Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press file photo
Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press file photo
Long after most of his Denver Nuggets teammates had cleared the practice floor, Danilo Gallinari remained out there, running a shooting drill he devised back home in Italy.
Each time he missed a shot during the laborious back-and-forth exercise, Gallinari punished himself by starting over again. For nearly 90 minutes, this went on and on.
It’s simply his method for breaking out of a shooting slump – and Denver urgently needs Gallinari to find his touch before the team falls too far behind.
For a squad with designs on challenging the top teams in the West, this wasn’t exactly the start the Nuggets envisioned: an 0-3 road swing in which their offense looked sluggish at times.
They rebounded Tuesday night in their home opener against the Detroit Pistons, another team searching for their first win.
“We’re not panicking at all,” Andre Iguodala said.
The Nuggets have been showing steady improvement since opening the season with a clunker in Philadelphia. They played well during the second half in Orlando and then took the Miami Heat to the wire before falling 119-116 the next night.
Although dropping three in a row doesn’t exactly sit well with coach George Karl, he knew this early portion of the schedule was going to be arduous. After all, his team plays 22 of the first 32 away from Pepsi Center.
“I’m not going to address losing, because the first 32 games of the season, we’re probably not going to have this flamboyant record that’s going to knock people out,” Karl said. “But we have to figure out how to win games.”
Part of that involves Gallinari rediscovering his shooting form. The 24-year-old forward missed the first game with a left ankle sprain, then went a combined 8-for-31 over the next two contests.
That’s why he stayed so late after practice. Gallinari ran one drill after another, trying to make as many long-range jumpers as he could before the buzzer sounded. He then would take a quick breather and begin again.
Each time he missed, he scolded himself and ran back to start again.
“Got to work on my shot,” said Gallinari, wiping the sweat from his forehead. “I feel good. Hopefully, I’ll feel the same (Tuesday).”
He wasn’t the only player putting in some extra time. In one corner of the practice facility, center Timofey Mozgov worked on his low-post moves, just in case he was cleared to play Tuesday after missing the opening three games because of a sprained left knee.
At the other end, veteran guard Andre Miller practiced his mid-range jumper. Then again, he always stays late, so that’s really nothing new.
Any sage advice for his fellow teammates to break them out of this funk?
“You really don’t say too much,” Miller said. “You’ve just got to come ready every night to play.”
Especially against a team like the Pistons, who were looking to spoil the home-opening festivities. Detroit has few recognizable names on its roster, which has Iguodala on high alert.
“Anybody can get it going at anytime,” Iguodala said. “They’re a scary team.”
The Nuggets also could be scary, once they start clicking. That potential is why many prognosticators selected them to be one of the favorites in the ultra-competitive West. Although the Nuggets are lacking a bona fide star, they do have athleticism and depth.
For now, though, Karl may shorten his rotation. He went with eight players against Miami, mainly because Wilson Chandler didn’t suit up for the second night of a back-to-back to save wear and tear on his surgically repaired hip.
Once the Nuggets find some traction, Karl may tinker with his lineup a little more.
“You experiment when you start playing well,” Karl said. “When you’re struggling, simplifying is usually the way to go.”
So is joviality, just to keep the pressure off his players.
With his team playing on election night, Karl had a little fun by anointing Iguodala as his team’s best politician.
“But the guy that knows what’s going on all the time is Andre Miller,” Karl said. “I don’t know if he could be president, but he could be a mayor of a city. He could make it run better because he makes us run better.”
Informed that Karl had appointed him the team’s top politician, Iguodala just laughed.
“First eight years of my career were in Philly, so you learn how to be politically correct,” Iguodala said. “I learned a lot from being there.”
Chief among them, don’t fret too much over lackluster starts so early in the season.
“I’ve been on teams where we started out really slow, and we made bursts around January,” Iguodala said. “I’ve been on a few teams where we haven’t got it going until after the All-Star break.
“Just continue to do the things we’ve been doing well and fix the things we’ve been doing wrong,” he said.