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Murray's Second Half vs. Washington Impresses Malone

By Christopher Dempsey

The meter on Jamal Murray’s season is pointed up. The rookie Nuggets guard is getting a real foothold on things this season, and coach Michael Malone lauded Murray’s second half play against the Wizards on Wednesday night.

“Jamal played over 24 minutes… and I thought his second half was one of the best halves he’s played of the year,” Malone said. “He was aggressive, made plays for his teammates. And I thought he competed against one of the top point guards in the NBA (in John Wall).”

Murray scored all 17 of his points against Washington in the second half. He made 7-of-13 shots, including 3-of-5 from the 3-point line. Murray added four assists with just one turnover. Naturally, that play has Malone wanting to see more of his young guard.

“With 18 games to go, I want to find more and more ways to put him out there,” Malone said. “It’s important for his development and maturation. And it’s only going to speed up his development as a player.”

Steady playing time has helped Murray get into a rhythm. Murray is averaging 22.1 minutes since the All-Star break.

“Trust me, I’m always telling him ‘shoot the ball. I don’t care if you miss. Take good shots, but shoot the ball, be aggressive,’” Malone said. “He’s definitely getting better and he’s understanding what is required of him to run his team.”

What to do with defense? Since the All-Star break, the Nuggets have a defensive rating of 110.2, ranking 24th in the NBA going into Thursday night’s games. There has been a back-and-forth between successes and struggles on that end of late.

Malone talked about the evolution of his team’s defense and where it needs to go from here.

“If you go back to the start of the regular season, we were playing good defense – the first 10, close to 15 games,” Malone said. “And then obviously the wheels have fallen off.”

Since the break, Malone says the Nuggets’ biggest problem is allowing points off of turnovers. “I think we’re allowing close to 20 points a night off of our turnovers,” he said.

To foul, or not to foul. The Nuggets have been one of the better teams this season in defending without fouling, ranking 12th in personal fouls committed per game (19.6). That number is even better since the All-Star break (18.8, which tied for eighth going into Thursday night).

That doesn’t mean, however, that a well-placed hack is a bad thing.

“Sometimes I wish we fouled more,” Malone said. “And I mean that seriously.”

As Exhibit A, Malone held up Washington’s 10-2 run at the end of the first quarter on Wednesday night. There were four transition layups at the end of the first, Malone said. He noted that any one of those was a good candidate for a strategic foul.

“Sometimes take a foul,” he said. “Put somebody on his (butt). We’re not trying to hurt anybody, but sometimes you have to send a message that it’s not that easy.”

Malone then provided the contrast.

“You want to keep them off the foul line so we can get out and run and play at the pace we want to play,” he said. “So it’s kind of a fine line, because sometimes I don’t think we foul when we need to just to send a message and let them know we can be physical team. And you’re going to have to earn everything you get against us. Sometimes it’s way too easy.”

Final nuggets: The Nuggets haven’t had a lot of practice time of late, but Malone wondered aloud if he pushed his team too hard in drills the day before losing to Charlotte last week. “We had a great practice the day before we played Charlotte,” Malone said. “In hindsight, I wonder if we practiced too hard. Because the next day you saw against Charlotte, we weren’t ready to play.” … Malone said the Nuggets have gone from one of the fastest-paced teams in the league, to now being in the middle of the pack. “We’re slowing down,” he said. “Maybe that’s because were tired, I don’t know what it is.”