Denver Nuggets Orlando Bubble Practice Day 12: Three Takeaways

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@EricSpyrosNBA

There are no more scrimmages. The next time the Denver Nuggets take the court against an opposing NBA team, the result will count in the standings.

With three days before their opening seeding game against the Miami Heat, the Nuggets are now beginning to integrate the remaining players who have recently joined the team in the bubble.

The lack of healthy bodies has limited the amount of five-on-five scrimmaging that Denver has been able to do in practice, while the team’s official scrimmage games have mostly showcased rare, unique lineups that won’t take the court when the games actually count.

Therefore, the focus this week has shifted to valuing the remaining practice time before Saturday’s seeding game.

Head coach Michael Malone, Monte Morris and Torrey Craig spoke to the media following Wednesday’s session. Here are three key takeaways from practice.

Turnovers and 3-point defense are points of emphasis

Given the lack of healthy bodies available for two of the three scrimmages, it’s hard to properly evaluate where the Nuggets are in terms of on-court chemistry and conditioning.

However, despite barely having any backcourt players available in the majority of the scrimmages, there are still areas of concern for Malone heading into the seeding games. Most notably, the team’s inability to take care of the ball and the breakdowns on defense when it comes to defending the 3-point line.

Malone came to today’s media availability with specific statistics to emphasize these struggles. With 67 turnovers across the three scrimmages, the team provided opponents with countless fast break opportunities, which hurt the defense when trying to set up on the other end of the floor.

As it relates to defending the 3-pointer, Malone believes that there have been breakdowns in several crucial areas.

“It starts with our transition defense,” Malone said Wednesday. “Our closeouts, we have our hands down as opposed to having high hands. We have had poor discipline when it comes to running shooters off (the 3-point line), and then our communication. If we’re switching pick-and-rolls, the talk isn’t early enough and we’re putting two on the ball, leaving shooters open.”

The Nuggets gave up 14 made 3-pointers per game during the scrimmages, which won’t bode well for the team’s defense in the seeding games, especially against the Heat, who rank first in the league in 3-point percentage at 38.3 percent.
“It’s always tough not having your full team to see where you’re at,” Craig said. “But from the scrimmages we played we definitely see a lot of things we need to work on, like defending 3-pointers and our turnovers.”

Confidence is high heading into seeding games

However, despite those issues plaguing Denver throughout the scrimmages, confidence is high among the players as it relates to the team’s chances come playoff time.

“I think we’re one of the deepest teams in the league,” Craig said Wednesday. “We’ve got a lot of talent, a lot of young talent. I always strongly felt that we have a good chance to compete with the best teams in the league and that’s what we’ve been doing these past couple of years so this year I think we have one of the best chances to win the championship.”

After recently joining the team in the bubble, Craig also pointed out that because the core of the team has been together for several seasons, there isn’t much of a concern as it relates to working on the on-court chemistry.

“With all our pieces back together, I think we’re going to be a team to be reckoned with,” Morris said. “We’re hungry and we’re ready to show the world what we’re made of.”

Having a full group of players is extremely valuable

One of the major storylines from the bubble over the past three weeks has been Denver’s lack of healthy bodies available during practices and scrimmages. With players such as Craig, Morris and Michael Porter Jr. recently joining the team and participating in practice, Malone and the coaching staff can finally begin to properly round out the potential rotation and work on different lineup combinations.

For the players, it also means having a chance to play actual five-on-five during practice, something that Denver hadn’t been able to do during the first two weeks of practices in the bubble.

“Today we went up and down a little bit,” Morris revealed. “For me, playing five-on-five again was really good. I’m excited to show what we’ve been working on come Saturday against Miami.”

With practice time diminishing as the seeding games begin, it will be interesting to see how in sync Denver is on both ends of the floor against Miami, as well as in the subsequent seeding games leading up to the playoffs.

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