Denver Nuggets Orlando Bubble Practice Day 5: Three takeaways
The Joker is back!
Nikola Jokić was finally able to rejoin his teammates in practice for the first since arriving in Orlando earlier this week. Although the two-time All-Star went through what Nuggets head coach Michael Malone described as a “light practice,” the photos and footage of the Serbian big man was a welcome sight for Nuggets fans. Although Jokić’s return to action was a focus during Wednesday’s media call, there were more pressing matters discussed by Jerami Grant and Malone. Here are the takeaways from the fifth official practice session.
Jerami wants justice for Breonna Taylor
Grant hasn’t spoken to the local media since the NBA hiatus started in mid-March. He made sure to utilize his first availability since then to discuss what he believes is a pressing issue: Arresting those responsible for Breonna Taylor’s tragic murder.
“For me personally, and I think this is the same for a lot of the players, it is imperative that we focus on what is really important in the world,” Grant said. “The only thing for me is that Breonna Taylor’s killers are still roaming around free. I just want to focus on that in these interviews.”
In a succinct four-minute and 50-second press conference, Grant answered questions on various subjects by interjecting with his thoughts on Taylor and the Black Lives Matter movement. The interactions can be seen below.
Malone praised Grant for using his platform to fight for change.
"I respect Jerami doing that. It's a big point of emphasis from the league, from the coaches, the NBPA, coming down here,” Malone said. “Making sure that we continue the conversation and keeping the spotlight where it needs to be. For Jerami to dedicate his press conference to the memory of the life of Breonna Taylor is outstanding so I applaud him for that."
Nikola’s first official practice since the hiatus
Having one of the NBA’s top 10 players back in your arsenal is always going to be a cause for excitement, but Malone cautioned Jokić will be gradually worked into the Nuggets’ training plans.
“[With] Nikola just getting here, we're going to be cautious and safe with any new player that comes into the Orlando campus and slowly work them in,” Malone explained. “We want to make sure that we're not putting anybody at risk of getting injured and work them in slowly.”
Malone added, “Nikola has done his job, he's stayed in shape and he's done all of the work he needs to do while he's been away from us. We still want to be smart with the reintegration of Nikola Jokić to his teammates.”
One topic that has been heavily discussed since Jokić’s return has been his weight. Malone believes reporters and social media are blowing the topic out of proportion.
“He looks great, but I think people are missing a major point here. Nikola had dedicated the last three months prior to the season being suspended to losing weight and getting into the best shape of his life,” Malone said. “I expect him to play the way how he was playing prior to the league being suspended and come out and play at a very high level. He's the best center in the NBA, why wouldn't he?”
Prior to the NBA’s hiatus, Jokić was on course for another MVP-caliber season, putting up 20.2 points, 10.2 boards and 6.9 assists per game.
The challenges of life in the bubble
Although the Nuggets and all other teams playing in the NBA’s restart are spending time in luxury resorts in Orlando, the realities of being separated from family and threat of COVID-19 still remain a real challenge for those in the bubble.
Malone discussed his own situation in illustrating how difficult the setup can be.
“The hardest part for me is being away from my daughters. I'm an NBA coach and to be away from my family for potentially 90 days is something that is really hard to grasp,” Malone explained. “I'm hoping the NBA will make some changes as the playoffs go forward where our families can come down here.”
The other test for Malone and his staff is figuring out how to deal with missing personnel. While the Nuggets have not commented on which players are out due to COVID-19 due to team policy, Malone shared that he’s had to utilize unique lineups to prepare for his team’s first scrimmage next week.
“Without getting into who's here and who is not, we have had some very unique lineups,” Malone said. “If things continue to go the way they are going, you could see some really interesting lineups next Wednesday night.”
Despite all of those challenges, Malone detailed why he believes the NBA restart is positive.
“We have a platform to use, we can bring basketball back and we can hopefully bring some relief to a country that has had a tremendously difficult year [in] 2020,” he said.