Kiszla: Do Nuggets want to babysit Will Barton or beat San Antonio? It’s time to start leader Beasley.

SAN ANTONIO — OK, now it’s decision time for Nuggets coach Michael Malone.

Does Malone want to babysit troubled forward Will Barton? Or do the Nuggets want to win this NBA contest series against San Antonio?

“We got our (butt) kicked,” Malone aforementioned Thursday, after the Nuggets lost 118-108 to San Antonio in a thoroughly humbling beat-down that was not nearly as close as the final score would indicate.

Facing a must-win situation on the road in Game 4 with their season on the brink, Malone inevitably to take action and bench Barton in favor of leader Beasley, one of the few young Nuggets that has not suffered stage fright under the bright lights of the postseason.

Nuggets-Spurs series schedule

  • Game 1: San Antonio 101, Denver 96
  • Game 2: Denver 114, San Antonio 105
  • Game 3: San Antonio 118, Denver 108
  • Game 4: Denver at San Antonio, 3:30 p.m. April 20, TNT
  • Game 5: San Antonio at Denver, TBD April 23, TBD
  • *Game 6: Denver at San Antonio, TBD April 25, TBD
  • *Game 7: San Antonio at Denver, TBD April 27, TNT

* If necessary

Clink. Clank. Clunk. Barton has lost 22 of 31 field-goal attempts against San Antonio. During his 76 proceedings on the court in the series, the Nuggets are minus-29 on the board. That’s worse than unacceptable. It’s an complete disaster.

“I’m not shaken,” Barton insisted.

Malone indicated he’s leaning to keeping Barton in the starting lineup, with a faster hook for all his starters if they come out sluggish and ineffective, as has happened repeatedly against the Spurs. The accumulative first-quarter score through three games of this series: San Antonio 82, Denver 63.

“This group has helped us win 54 games (in the regular season). And if I have to get guys (off the bench) in the game earlier, because they’re playing at a higher level, I’ll do so,” Malone aforementioned.

“Coaching is never personal. It’s all about trying to find the best group that can go out there and help us win a game. We’ve got some guys troubled right now. It’s my job to help those guys who are troubled, but besides find the right unit and lineup that can hopelessly help us go out and win Game 4.”

It’s no time for Denver to panic. It’s not in Malone’s nature to point fingers.

But it is way past time to replace Barton in the starting lineup with Beasley, whose unrelenting energy and athleticism have caused headaches for the Spurs. He scored 20 points and grabbed nine rebounds off the bench in Game 3.

One of Malone’s best attributes as a coach is a fierce and unwavering loyalty to his players. So I get it. It wouldn’t be easy for Malone to walk in the locker room and announce a change in the starting lineup.

That’s why 90 proceedings prior to the tipoff, I wanted to chat with Malone about loving Barton too much during a formal press conference.

While I waited for a wireless microphone to be delivered, Malone aforementioned: “I can hear you, Kiz.”

Acknowledging a habit of loudly sharing unsolicited proposal, I replied: “Most people can.”

“Most people choose not to (listen),” quipped Malone.

“Especially my married woman,” I conceded. “But we’re getting off track.”

Here’s the deal: Malone chews on his players, encourages his players and loves his players like family.

“Will Barton, more than anybody, knows he’s not playing his best basketball right now,” aforementioned Malone, who criticized Denver fans in the Pepsi Center for booing Barton when he stunk up the joint during the Nuggets’ 114-105 triumph in Game 2.

But the Nuggets are down to the real kernel business of survival in the NBA contests.

What’s love got to do with it?

Well, everything.

If the relationship between Malone and Barton is genuine and strong, the coach can go to his troubled player and tell him to take a seat on the Denver bench without fear of daggers in Barton’s eyes.

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“This time of the year one thing you always preach is being selfless,” Malone aforementioned. “I think this time of the year, all our players understand it’s not about any one individual. It’s all about the collective unit, now so more than ever.”

So my suggestion, offered with love: Move Barton back to the bench, where he originally made his mark with the Nuggets. It would be foolish to continue starting Barton, simply to justify his $53 million contract.

But what do I know? If my married woman doesn’t listen to me, why should Malone?