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Head coach Michael Malone of the ...
Matthew Stockman, Getty Images
Head coach Michael Malone of the Denver Nuggets watches as his team plays the New Orleans Pelicans at the Pepsi Center on Nov. 17, 2017 in Denver.
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Setbacks are compounding for the Nuggets and their coach, Michael Malone. They can barely win outside the square state. High-priced free-agent acquisition Paul Millsap will miss several months with a wrist injury. They scored just enough points in their last game to get blown out.

But the biggest issue is self-inflicted. And Malone can identify the problem with plenty of force behind his clipped Queens accent.

“Valuing the basketball,” Malone said Thursday morning. “That has been, by far, the No. 1 problem we’ve had this year. Our turnovers. And more importantly, the points we’re allowing off those turnovers.”

Through 20 games, the Nuggets rank 27th in the 30-team NBA in turnover percentage. They cough up the ball, on average, 15 times every 100 possessions. Denver committed 18 turnovers Saturday in a 29-point loss at Utah, led by backup point guard Emmanuel Mudiay, whose five turnovers came in just 19 minutes on the court.

Ball control is wracking the brain of Denver’s coach. He can barely contain himself. In two losses to the Jazz this season, Utah averaged 29.5 points off Nuggets turnovers — about a quarter of the Jazz’s total point output.

“That’s ludicrous,” Malone said. “A lot of them are live-ball turnovers that lead to break points.”

In a Thursday night game against the struggling Bulls, the Nuggets faced another difficulty. Chicago’s starting point guard, Kris Dunn, was averaging 2.1 steals per game, against 3.3 turnovers. Denver’s point guards, by comparison, are combining for a steal-to-turnover ratio of 1.2 to 4.5.

“Our point guard situation, Jamal Murray and Emmanuel Mudiay, both those guys, let’s be honest, they’re struggling,” Malone said. “It’s tough to win games when your starting and backup point guards are not playing at the level you need them.”

The sloppiness is keeping Denver from busting out. In streaking to the sixth spot in the Western Conference, the Nuggets did it in fits and starts, winning more than two games in a row just once, when they won three in a row early in November.

Some of their ball-control problems are the product of pace. The Nuggets rank fourth in the NBA in fast-break points, at 14.4 per game, and when the tempo picks up, by nature, so do the turnovers.

But the Nuggets rank middle-of-the-pack, 13th, in possessions per game. That’s why Malone is losing patience. They are 4-4 in their past eight games. The Nuggets cannot streak in the standings until they get out of their own way.

“If we’re sloppy with the ball, all of a sudden we’re giving a team some life, some energy, you’re fueling their break,” Malone said. “We can’t do that. Bottom line is, we cannot continue to beat ourselves, especially on the road.”

Millsap woes. The Nuggets fell to 2-2 since Millsap, their power forward, suffered a torn ligament in his left wrist that required surgery. In his absence, the Nuggets both beat Memphis in impressive fashion and fell to the Jazz in an embarrassing way.

Millsap’s prowess as a perimeter defender was especially missing against the Jazz, who shot 14-for-32 from 3-point range.

“They killed us from the 3-point line,” Malone said. “But you don’t learn how to play without Paul Millsap overnight.”

Footnotes. Veteran small forward Wilson Chandler remained out with a lower-back injury. … The Nuggets will lift longtime guard Lafayette “Fat” Lever’s No. 12 jersey to the rafters in retirement Saturday in a ceremony during a game against the Lakers at the Pepsi Center.

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