“It’s been 152 days since we lost to Golden State in Game 5.”

That was how Michael Malone led the first presser of the day at Denver Nuggets Media Day. 152 days. Malone remembers. He clearly hasn’t forgotten how bad it was.

Now, Malone and the Denver Nuggets are chomping at the bit. Last season didn’t end the way the team hoped. Injury questions dogged Denver throughout the year, and ultimately, those questions were too great to overcome.

So, Malone and the Nuggets are hoping to turn the page. A new energy and vibe, a new commitment to each other. The Nuggets aren’t just talking the talk like last season. They’re about it.

“The challenge I put out to our guys, I think last September was [our] worst in going on eight years now,” Malone recounted. “The turnout and the energy in the gym [this September] has been phenomenal.”

That energy showed throughout Media Day in just about every conversation. Nuggets players were excited to be back in the building and getting to work. That anticipation just isn’t something the Nuggets have had since injuries to Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. flipped Denver’s expectations upside down. Now, it appears that the Nuggets are ready to get back to business.

“On Friday, Aaron Gordon had the whole team over to his place,” Malone shared. “After they got done playing, they all went to play paintball. That stuff didn’t happen a lot last year.”

It’s a small detail but a reminder that injuries turned everything upside down for the last 18 months. Murray and Porter were unable to fully be a part of things, and it left Jokić on an island in many ways. Now, with the full team back together and ready to go, it appears the Nuggets are ready to have some fun.

Here are some major takeaways from Monday’s festivities.

Media Day takeaways

Jamal Murray is back

While there were certainly discussions about easing into things and taking it slow, Jamal Murray sounds like he’s ready to go right now. There will be times when the Nuggets have to slow him down, but he’s ready to go and will suit up for the Nuggets during the preseason.

From Murray himself: “I feel a lot better. Just more strong, more confident…it’s not even close.”

Murray mentioned the possibility of him not playing on back-to-backs, deciding whether to play on the first one or second one. That may change in the future, but expecting him to sit out either the first or second night of a back-to-back is the right frame of mind to begin the year.

More from Murray on his expectations: “At the moment, I just want to play. I don’t care if I go 0-for-10…I just want to get those couple games under my belt first, and then you all can have all of the talks about what to expect.”

Malone was careful to not put expectations too heavily on Murray’s shoulders, but he’s clearly excited for what’s to come too.

“You never have to worry about Jamal [Murray] and his confidence,” Malone quipped. “He’s got that confidence back. He’s got that swagger back. Seeing him in our gym, playing with that confidence, chirping, has been fun to watch and fun to be a part of.”

Murray has been all over the world this summer, from Phoenix to Australia, playing pickup everywhere he goes. Game speed will take some getting used to, but Murray has always operated at his own pace and rarely gets sped up by opposing defenses anymore. There’s a possibility that he struggles out of the gate. Just as possible is him simply dominating immediately.

From rookies Jack White and Christian Braun, who played against Murray in open runs last week, “He looks good” and “Fantastic” were the quips about Murray’s performance.

It’s safe to say Murray’s back.

Michael Porter Jr. is too, with a caveat

There’s no doubt that Porter’s absence was also felt last year. His floor spacing and size helped create mismatches, and the Nuggets struggled without him. He’s hoping to have a greater impact this season, and the Nuggets know he can do more.

“The offseason for me was just about getting right, getting confidence in my game and in my body again, so I feel good,” Porter shared.

“You learn and you grow, and you see what worked before, what didn’t work before. The fact that I had to go through this again, I attacked it from different angles.”

Porter wants to play for the Nuggets. Badly. He wants to prove he can stay on the court and isn’t limited in any way. The Nuggets will probably look to limit him, but Porter’s response to the idea of not playing while healthy was very telling:

“I would prefer to play 82. I don’t think taking the careful route with players is the way to go, but you definitely want to be smart. That time comes from the recovery you do off of the court.”

Porter continued: “I don’t think skipping games is the way that you save your body. You gotta respect the game. You should play when you can play and help your team win as many games as possible.

Calvin Booth shared that Porter has no physical limitations entering training camp. He was hesitant to say Porter is fully cleared though.

“In Michael’s case, if he is healthy, is he running the way he should run?” Booth asked. “Is he rebounding the way he should rebound? Is he giving effort on defense?”

“He’s a tough shot taker and a tough shot maker, but every now and then, do you move the ball instead of taking that tough shot? We want Michael to be himself but there are some definite areas of improvement.”

Defense over Everything

The most common sentiment from every Nuggets presser was the need to improve defensively. After another average finish in defensive rating, the Nuggets looked to address that need in multiple ways this offseason. It’s on the front of everyone’s mind and will be a major focus during training camp in San Diego.

From Michael Malone: “We understand that you can’t be 15th in the NBA in defensive efficiency and be serious about winning at a high level…When you add guys like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Bruce Brown, DeAndre Jordan, you draft guys like Peyton Watson and Christian Braun, I think we addressed a lot of the defensive holes via personnel changes. But it’s also going to be a challenge to all of the returning players. We have to be a lot better.”

From Nikola Jokić: “It’s a team defense. Maybe I can be a bad 1-on-1 player but I can be a really good team player…we can play good defense just because we have good chemistry and we know each other.”

From Aaron Gordon, whose role may be slightly different on the defensive end this year: “I feel like I still will be guarding point-of-attack throughout the game, but it’s nice that we will be able to switch people on and off, give people different looks. I know that that’s the most difficult thing for me on offense is seeing multiple different bodies and you gotta keep sizing people up.”

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope: “I feel like we can be that defensive team this year in the West. If not number one, I think we’ll be top five.”

Bruce Brown: “We all know that I’m here for defense. Offense will take care of itself. Just me going out there guarding, making it tough for the opposing team’s best offensive player every night.”

The Nuggets know that the championship aspirations begin with health, but they don’t sustain in earnest unless defense is a true commitment. The best defenses in the league are committed to that side of the ball as a team, and until the Nuggets reach that level of commitment, there will always be questions.

Backup center is still a question

Zeke Nnaji has an opportunity to create playing time for himself this season at backup center. And yet, he still appears hesitant to accept that role.

“I gained a lot of weight this summer, so I’m a lot stronger setting screens, rolling,” Nnaji shared. “But I feel like my bread and butter is still picking and popping, being wide open for a knockdown shot, corner or wing or whatever.”

“I see myself more as a 4 than a 5.”

With the departure of DeMarcus Cousins and Jeff Green moving back to a bench role, forward minutes are decidedly more difficult to come by this season. Nnaji will have a lot of competition at backup forward and only DeAndre Jordan to compete with at backup center. Yet, it still seems like Nnaji would prefer otherwise.

He continued: “Even though I’m stronger, it’s not like I’m slower or anything like that. I’m still a versatile defender, somebody who takes pride in guarding, especially guards, switching onto them and being able to lock them down.”

DeAndre Jordan, on the other hand, seems fairly established in his role.

“When I’m out there, I’m going to do my job. Whatever I need to do,” Jordan shared. “I’ve been asked to get my teammates open [with screens], get extra possessions on the offensive glass, defend, rebound, and finish anything in the paint that I get.”

Sometimes, the Nuggets may need to simplify the game for the bench. When Jordan’s out there, the plan is fairly simple: run pick and roll, run drop coverage on defense, and work hard. That simplicity is appealing to many teams.

Nnaji may have some competition at backup center this year. Maybe he’s okay with that and would prefer to play power forward anyway. For the Nuggets to be at their best though, Nnaji will have to be comfortable in either role. Whether he can do that is to be determined.

There were many more quotes and answers given that will be discussed throughout training camp in San Diego going forward. With competition abound, the Nuggets appear poised to have a strong opportunity to set themselves up for the rest of the season.

Habits will be built and maintained early. Championship contenders understand this and find ways to focus on those skills early on. For the Nuggets to take that next step, the attention to detail will have to be better.

The championship run starts in earnest on Tuesday.