NEW ORLEANS -- To say Denver Nuggets coach Mike Malone wasn't pleased with his team's performance Thursday night might be an understatement.
Malone ripped into his team following a 122-107 loss to the previously winless New Orleans Pelicans.
"I'm embarrassed," Malone said at his postgame news conference. "That was an embarrassing effort defensively. Gave up 37 fast-break points. You can give all the transition defense rules that you want. To me, transition defense boils down to one thing -- effort. Get back. You can tell them. You can lead a horse to water, whatever analogy you want to use. We did not get back."
Malone called a timeout with 7:53 left in the fourth quarter with his team trailing by 19. On the next offensive possession after the timeout, Pelicans center Jahlil Okafor got a steal on a bad pass from Jamal Murray and ran down the court for a layup.
Malone turned to his bench and immediately replaced four members of his starting lineup and emptied his bench just two minutes later.
"I thought our starting group struggled. I thought they were low energy," Malone said. "We were lucky to be down by four at halftime, and they come out and punch us in the mouth to start that third quarter.
"I thought tonight was a disappointing, embarrassing effort. I thought guys off the bench played hard, gave effort. We gotta find ways to get our starters to play the same way, because they're not playing like that right now. They're just not."
The Pelicans had 20 fast-break points -- more than they had in any of the first four games -- in the first 15 minutes and finished with 37. It is tied for the most fast-break points a Nuggets team has allowed under Malone, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
"We're a great talk team. We can talk before the season starts about all the things we want to accomplish, and we want to be a contending team," Malone said. "It's all bulls---. Don't tell me about it, show me. And right now we've got a lot of guys that aren't showing me much."
Malone pointed out reserve Mason Plumlee as someone he wants the rest of the team to play like.
"Every night, he's on the bench supporting his teammates," Malone said. "When he goes into the game, he gives 1,000 percent. That's great to see.
"I thought the guys off the bench were really committed. I got to find a way to get those five starters playing the same way for every minute that they're on the court, because it's not happening right now and I gotta figure that out, and that's on me."
Plumlee, who played 15 minutes and had 10 points and seven rebounds while fouling out, agreed that the Nuggets struggled in transition.
"They were faster, you know; faster on the break, faster on the boards," Plumlee said. "They were more into the game all night."
Nuggets center Nikola Jokic said the Pelicans just outworked them.
"Sometimes it's communication, sometimes it's effort, sometimes it's just the turnovers," Jokic said of the fast-break points. "It's not just effort."
When the Pelicans were in transition, they finished with 1.68 points per play on 13-of-18 shooting, according to ESPN Stats & Information. When the Nuggets were able to slow them down in the halfcourt, the Pelicans dropped to 0.86 points per play on 28-of-59 shooting.
New Orleans also had a 37-35 edge in rebounding. The Nuggets and Pelicans both finished with just five second-chance points.
Thursday night also represented the regular-season debut of Nuggets rookie Michael Porter Jr, who missed all of last season because of injury. Porter played 21 minutes and finished with a team-high 15 points. He shot 5-of-8 from the floor, including one 3-pointer, and was 4-of-6 from the line.
"It was cool and it was fun, but I was trying to win," said Porter, who was the only one of Denver's 10 rotational players to finish with a positive plus-minus (+1). "I'm not really in a great mood right now. At the end of the day, it's amazing to make my NBA debut, I thank the Lord for the opportunity, but I was trying to get a [win]."