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Denver’s Nikola Jokic is greeted by his teammates after being presented the NBA MVP trophy before game 3 of the conference semifinals at Ball Arena on Friday, June 11, 2021. Jokic is the first Denver Nugget to get an MVP award and the first second round draft pick to get the award. (Photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette)

A recent conversation between Denver Nuggets coach Michael Malone and his star center, Nikola Jokic, about picking his battles wasn’t what one might think.

The subject wasn’t when to look to score against Deandre Ayton, Jokic’s counterpart for Wednesday’s season-opener in Phoenix, or when to pass to a teammate. It wasn’t about potentially resting when the load of leading the Nuggets on a nightly basis gets to be a burden after he played in all 82 regular season and playoffs games last season. It was, however, about diaper duty.

“You always want to change a diaper that’s an easy diaper to change. You don’t want the blowouts,” Malone, an experienced father, said.

“You’ve got to pick your battles, man. I think Nikola’s learning how to do that.”

A week ago, Jokic said his first diaper change would be “the next one.” By Tuesday, he had made his first attempt but picked the wrong fight.

“I tried,” Jokic said.

“Well, it was messy. Let’s say it like that.”

The hope is things are a bit cleaner on the court. Malone said last season’s Most Valuable Player looks the part despite another short and busy offseason.

“The reigning MVP has come back to camp playing at a high level,” Malone said after Denver’s final preseason game. “He looks great to me.”

The Nuggets’ coach added Tuesday that Jokic might be a little fatigued by all that’s going on. Malone vowed to help when needed as Jokic navigates his first season as a dad.

“That’s not something that is out of the ordinary,” Malone said. “This is life, and we’ll help Nikola get through it. That’s where it can’t be all Nikola every night. Other guys have to step up and bring their game and contribute to the cause. We know we’re capable of doing that. The challenge is how consistently can we do that.”

Jokic wasn’t so concerned. He credited his wife, Natalija, and his mother-in-law for doing the heavy lifting as he prepares to lead the Nuggets to another postseason appearance.

“I really appreciate Natalija,” Jokic said Oct. 11. “What Natalija’s doing for us, she’s the MVP for real. She’s the best player in our family right now.”

The Nuggets will want Jokic to reclaim that title sooner than later. The star center said he likes the Nuggets’ goal of taking 40 quality 3-point attempts per game this season, acknowledging that’s the direction basketball is headed. Co-star Jamal Murray is more enjoyable as a teammate than in the coaching role he’s adopted as he recovers from a knee injury, Jokic said. He added being the reigning MVP won’t impact his approach this season and seemed most concerned with the team’s communication heading into the season opener against the team that swept the Nuggets out of the playoffs last season.

“The season is long, so you can have ups and downs," Jokic said. "Hopefully, we’re going to have a little more ups than downs. We’ll see.”

The Nuggets went through a light practice Tuesday before catching a flight to Phoenix. They’ll study up the Suns again Wednesday before their first basketball battle of the season. With a supportive family and franchise around Denver's star, the Nuggets coach had few concerns Jokic would find a way to make it all work.

“He’s really fortunate in that regard that he’s got such a special group around him to help navigate ‘Hey, I’m the reigning MVP. The season’s starting. I just had my first daughter and all those other things that go into that,’” Malone said of Jokic’s family. “He’s a tough kid, man. He’ll be fine.”

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