COLORADO SPRINGS – Nuggets coach Michael Malone didn’t exactly gloss over what his team’s primary source of motivation should be this season.
At Monday night’s team dinner, he stuck right at the basketball soul of his team.
“The last clip on our edit last night that we watched was Portland celebrating on our court,” Malone said of last season’s second-round playoff exit. “That was it. After that, I don’t think anything needs to be said.”
Malone called it a “drop the mic” moment since it showed how close the Nuggets were to their first conference finals trip since 2009. In the Game 7 clip, Nikola Jokic clanked an off-balance 3-pointer with six seconds remaining and Portland forward Evan Turner scampered away with the rebound and the conference semifinals series in hand.
“That is a great source of motivation,” Malone said.
After making their first postseason run of the Malone era, Denver’s fifth-year head coach is most concerned about his team giving in to “human nature.” He doesn’t want last year’s success trickling into the minds of his players and make them think they’ve arrived.
His theatrical ploy Monday night at the Broadmoor Hotel, where the team is staying, made an impression.
“It was obviously disappointing, obviously felt like we could’ve made it to the next round,” said veteran power forward Paul Millsap.
Jamal Murray, the Nuggets’ incumbent point guard, echoed the same thoughts after being asked about the clip.
“Just know how good we are, knowing we should have won the game and could have won the game,” Murray said. “The only thing we can do about it is go back the next year and be better. That starts right here.”
Malone said that he, Nuggets president of basketball operations Tim Connelly and team owner Josh Kroenke spoke during a presentation Monday night that helped establish the tone of training camp. The gist of the speech centered on the daily habits necessary to reach title aspirations.
“Everybody’s committed to being a championship team, and we think that’s a goal that is not far-fetched,” Malone said. “We can’t just relax now and think we’re there. It can change quickly in the NBA. We went from being out of the playoffs to a two seed. If we think we can just show up, we can go from a No. 2 seed to being out of the playoffs just as a quick. … We’ve gone from being a team that was a hunter to now we’re going to be a team that is hunted because of the season that we had.”
How that hunger manifests will be the defining storyline of the Nuggets’ season.
Jokic’s workload: Toward the end of Tuesday’s practice, Malone asked Nikola Jokic whether he wanted to sit out the remaining drills and rest. Jokic, coming off an extended run with the Serbian national team in the FIBA World Cup, didn’t take Malone’s offer, saying he felt great.
Malone said he’d likely play Jokic in three of four preseason games and made it clear that he’d keep close tabs on the respective workloads of Jokic, Mason Plumlee and Juancho Hernangomez. All three had a shortened summer while playing in the World Cup.