At a minimum, the Denver Nuggets know of two things that need to be improved over the remainder of the season, which resumes with Saturday’s seeding game against the Miami Heat.
In a Zoom press conference Wednesday morning, Nuggets coach Michael Malone spoke on the importance of taking care of the ball – he said Denver has averaged more than 20 turnovers and allowed opponents more than 25 points off turnovers in three scrimmages – and defending the three-point line where opponents shot nearly 40% during Denver’s 1-2 run through exhibitions.
“We have eight seeding games to try to figure out how we need to value the ball, figure out our 3-point defense while getting guys healthy, creating a chemistry on the court, and trying to develop some sort of a rotation,” Malone said.
Part of the issue, Malone added, was that playing five bigs, as the team was forced to do in stretches of all three scrimmage due to a shortage of healthy guards, comes with an entire unit more accustomed to sprinting back in transition to protect the rim instead of finding shooters spotting up on the perimeter.
“It’s always tough not having your full team to just see where you’re at, but from the scrimmages, the way we played, we definitely see a lot of things we need to work on,” Torrey Craig, one of the team’s top perimeter defenders, said. “Three-point defense was one of them, turnovers. We have to get better at those two categories, but it’s always difficult when you don’t have the full team.”
“We have to be better, and I think our players understand that,” Malone added. “I have a lot of optimism that we will be.”
Anthem discussion staying private for now
Malone and Craig confirmed the team has discussed its actions should the national anthem be played prior to Saturday’s game but decided to keep the details private, for now.
“We’ve had discussions. We’ve had talks,” Malone said. “Those will all remain private.”
“Just talking to the guys, everybody is entitled to their own opinions,” Craig added. “So we’ll just see what happens.”
Rotations still a rough draft
A few days out from the team’s return to meaningful basketball, Malone is still trying to figure who will be available and how long he can safely play some of the most recent arrivals.
“We had a practice today and we have quite a few guys that were held out of practice due to injuries and just being very, very cautious,” Malone said. “Until I know who is going to be available, that’s when I’ll kind of start formulating what the rotation will be, but there’s so much up in the air right now, which makes it really, really hard. Less than ideal.”
In Monday’s scrimmage, Gary Harris did not participate, while Jamal Murray and Will Barton were under a minutes restriction.
Good news came when Monte Morris, who has established himself as the floor general of the second unit but was one of the later arrivals, saying he got through practice without much of an issue.
“I got down here, and it’s an easy transition,” Morris said. “I feel good.”
Seeding takes backseat to health
Without a true home-court advantage going to the lower playoff seed, Malone said he’ll prioritize making sure his team is healthy and fresh for the playoffs, having already clinched a spot.
The Nuggets are the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference with seeding games set to start Thursday.
“Right now, to be honest, I’m not concerned about our seeding. Obviously, having clinched a playoff spot, my number one concern is health,” Malone said. “That continues to be a huge concern for me, a point of emphasis. Can we find a way to get healthy come August 17?”
That is not to say the results are meaningless to the players.
“These eight games, you know, they definitely count,” Morris said. “Teams are fighting for spots, so we want to win, for sure. We just know we got to get a couple games in to try to get everything back to normal.”
Regardless of which seed the Nuggets enter the playoffs with, Craig believes they’re a contender.
“I’ve said that since Day 1 that I think we’re one of the deepest teams in the league. We’ve got a lot of talent, a lot of young talent at that,” Craig said. “I’ve always strongly felt that we had a good chance to compete with the best teams in the league, and that’s what we’ve been doing the past couple of years. This year, coming up on the playoffs, I feel like we have one of the best chances to win a championship this year.”