After a slow start to the season, the Denver Nuggets have righted the ship underneath rookie head coach Brian Shaw. Though the team lost its best player and award-winning coach and top player personnel executive over the offseason, the Nugs are currently locked in at 13-8, on pace for a 51-win season that would far exceed the win total most predicted before 2013-14.
What the team still hasn’t figured out, though, is why Denver plays so poorly at the outset of games. The Nuggets are far and away the worst first quarter team in the NBA, and most League Pass watchers that witness those sorts of slow starts are shocked to see the team in top form in the fourth quarter, on their way toward yet another win.
Pressed for a reason behind this, Shaw decided to do a little housecleaning last week. Greasy fast food is off the pregame menu for Nuggets players, because there’s no way anything that is dripping with cheese is going to put you in place to roar out of the gate in the first quarter. From Tom Schad at the Denver Post:
Shaw has searched for answers to their offensive woes in the first quarters of games. Last week, he walked through the locker room, saw players eating pizza and nachos and believed the poor diet to be the cause. So he picked up all the junk food and threw it in the trash.
The Nuggets had fresh salads with chicken breast and cold cut sandwiches before Monday's game. The sluggish result was the same.
Schad is referencing a terribly ugly first quarter against the Washington Wizards on Monday that really didn’t let up, if we’re honest. Denver prevailed while on the road, but it was by a miserable 75-74 score. No amount of leafy greens was going to perk this one up.
It’s no surprise that Shaw knows what he’s talking about when it comes to healthy food. As the Denver Post profiled in October, Brian’s wife Nikki Shaw attended culinary school, and makes a point to influence smart choices amongst her family – including Brian and their two children:
While she preaches the virtues of healthy eating within the African-American community and beyond, one of her most skeptical subjects was sitting at her own dining room table.
"Brian was my biggest challenge. Years ago, I said 'Let's substitute ground turkey for beef and pork.' He said 'No way, that doesn't even sound right.' Little did he know I had been using ground turkey for years. I said, 'Hey, I'm adding years on your life, guy.'"
Like any smart husband, Brian knows when to admit that his wife is right. (That would be always, gentlemen.)
"She's had a major effect on how I eat, now that I'm retired from playing," said the 47-year-old coach after a long day at the Pepsi Center. "I could pretty much eat anything that I wanted and burn it right off. Now, I don't get to exercise as much as I would like to."
The Nuggets coach returns to an important point with that statement. NBA players are constantly working out during the season – be it in games, practices, shootarounds, or personal routines. Most of these guys can eat just about anything, and it won’t show up on the scale. That’s not always a good thing, though.
It’s never really fair to criticize an NBA player – an in-shape NBA player, at least – for the occasional poor choice on that day’s menu. These guys burn off so many calories even on “off” days that it’s completely understandable for them to want to order a healthy portion of cream, carbs and caloric refill at the Cheesecake Factory from time to time.
The issue is creating energy, and though a few slices of pizza or chicken fingers won’t make a dent on the sculpted tummy of a player that runs up and down an NBA court for 40 minutes, the dining choices do make a difference when it comes to creating both a sluggish brain and body in the midst of game action.
That’s not to say the change is helping in the box score. Though the Nuggets have gone 3-2 in five games since last Tuesday, and they’ve been outscored in the first quarter in each of those contests – including an embarrassing 39-15 performance against the Boston Celtics on Friday. That was a game that saw Denver outscore Boston by 16 over the final three quarters, eventually losing a winnable contest that they had dug too deep a hole in to overcome.
Still, changes like this are sound choices. Players can refill with whatever they’d like to from whatever’s open following the game, but it’s always best to go smart with the fuel intake prior to a performance.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to go to a late lunch. Apparently Wendy’s is putting bacon, cheese and beef on a brioche bun now, and I want to be of sound mind and spirit in time to cover tonight’s Indiana/Miami matchup.
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