Denver’s turbulent restart may be rocky for a few more days.
Nuggets coach Michael Malone said Sunday his three injured starters were “very, very questionable” for Monday’s game against Oklahoma City, meaning the Nuggets may yet again have to rely on their depth to compete. Jamal Murray (hamstring), Gary Harris (hip) and Will Barton (knee) all missed Saturday’s opening loss to Miami, and Malone made it sound like there was only a slight chance one of them could play Monday.
“I will say, keep hope alive,” Malone said during a lighthearted news conference Sunday. “Down with dope, up with hope. You never know what’s going to happen tomorrow at 4 o’clock, but I would say, in all likelihood, maybe one of those guys, but very, very questionable.”
Murray said he couldn’t pinpoint when exactly his left hamstring started bothering him. He said that before the rest of the Nuggets joined him and his teammates in Orlando, 3-on-3 and 4-on-4 games were customary. He said he was also doing a lot of lifting during the prior few weeks.
“Maybe that goes into a factor of it, I’m not sure,” Murray said. “Kind of unclear when it started. The point is, it still hurts right now and I’m still trying to get through that and prepare for whatever I can, whether it’s practice or a game or whatever the situation is.”
The Nuggets have stressed that Aug. 17 (the playoffs) is far more important to them that these regular-season games, so Murray understands the big-picture approach. But as a competitor, who watched from the bench Saturday as turnovers wrecked any chance the Nuggets had of beating Miami, he wants to play.
“You know me, I want to play every game, I want to play every day,” Murray said. “While obviously you gotta put some thinking into it and what’s smart for the team or what’s smart for you. Like you said, being cautious, taking it slow and trying to get back out there. Still watching film, still being involved, still practicing and just being cautious at this point.”
Murray, the team’s second-leading scorer at 18.8 points per game, was perhaps the most difficult to replace, though Harris’ defense was a close second. Monte Morris, who started in place of him, and P.J. Dozier took up primary guard duties. Morris had some uncharacteristic turnovers, and neither player was able to fully initiate the offense. After processing the loss and digesting the film, Malone took some small solace that Saturday was the team’s first game in 143 days.
“We’re still in our infancy of the bubble, in terms of having guys getting back to playing live basketball,” Malone said.
And while many have made the analogy that the seeding games are de-facto preseason games for the Nuggets due to their late arrivals, Malone made the stark contrast that the playoffs never follow the preseason. In other words, Denver has seven games to erase their turnover habit and start to communicate better on defense. He estimated 12 to 15 points could’ve been saved against Miami just from better communication.
Business casual: The NBA has allowed coaches to dress down for the restart games, something similar to Las Vegas Summer League attire than the jacket-and-tie combination coaches typically wear.
Malone indulged the question when asked how he liked coaching in his team polo as opposed to a blazer and tie.
“I love it,” Malone said. “I hope that some day we adopt these dress code rules because although I look very good in a suit and tie, I will admit, I’m also very, very comfortable wearing a Nuggets polo and a pair of Travis Mathew’s athletic leisure wear pants. I think I’m doing a pretty job with the look. Now I gotta do a better job with my coaching.”