After Friday night’s preseason loss to the Chicago Bulls on the road, the Denver Nuggets took Saturday off before reconvening on Sunday.

The energy was good. Michael Malone carried around a championship belt while the Nuggets held a free throw competition during the portion of practice media was able to attend. There was speculation as to what the belt would be for. Ultimately, it was award to Peyton Watson, who made every single free throw he attempted after practice, according to Bruce Brown.

After practice wrapped up, Malone, Brown, and Jeff Green spoke to local media.

Porous defense

The primary focus for Michael Malone, unsurprisingly, has been Denver’s defensive lapses so far in the two preseason games.

“I showed them 10 clips – that was it – of our transition defense, which was really bad,” Malone shared. “Also, our paint defense, which was embarrassing at times, and defending the three point line.”

Malone continued: “Then I told our guys, I said: ‘You know what the weird thing is? I thought we had a great training camp in San Diego. I thought after the OKC game, we had three days of really good practice. Today’s practice, I thought was exceptional. So, fellas, here’s the problem: we’re playing harder in practice than we’re playing in the games.'”

There’s undoubtedly a ramping-up process that players go through when transitioning from training camp to preseason to regular season play. Players are still getting their legs under them, and the game speed is clearly faster. Jamal Murray made mention of it after last Monday’s preseason opener.

Now, game speed seems to be a process the entire team is going through all at once.

“We just have to find a way to bring forth that same effort that we’ve had in practices into a game situation.”

Jeff Green, a 15-year veteran, shared that he didn’t subscribe to the notion that game speed should be difficult to find in the preseason.

“For me, if you ask anybody about preseason: ‘Oh, I just want to play basketball,” Green shared on Sunday. “If given the chance to play minutes, you’re going to play basketball. I don’t buy the idea that preseason is an excuse that we can use…if you want to play.”

Many of Denver’s defensive issues have been more effort related than scheme related, at least according to Malone. Getting back in transition, interior defense, helping the helper, and other aspects have been chief among Malone’s focuses. Transition defense in particular has bothered Malone so far.

“You start with the offense – 19 turnovers for 25 points. So, live ball turnovers are going to make it really hard to get back and set your defense.”

Malone continued: “I think the other biggest problem is when we take a shot, we are slow to get back. We are literally, instead of sprinting back, we are ball-watching, we are hesitating, and we are jogging or backpedaling back. Not good enough.”

The Nuggets have been quick to point out this year that building good habits starts early. The practices are good and have demonstrated that willingness to work hard and do what it takes. The games, at least to this point, have left much to be desired from an effort standpoint.

Let’s see if the Nuggets can change that heading into Monday’s preseason game against the Phoenix Suns.

Jokić and Murray updates

After Nikola Jokić missed Friday’s game entirely and Jamal Murray was sidelined prior to halftime, Nuggets fans were understandably concerned about their status prior to the regular season.

Malone addressed their injury situations on Sunday.

“Jamal for a little bit [of contact],” Malone shared. “Joker did almost all of the practice except for the contact stuff. We just don’t want to expose that wrist to any unnecessary contact.”

Murray, coming off of a lengthy recovery window for the ACL tear to his left knee, sustained a minor injury to his left hamstring. The recovery window makes Murray slightly more susceptible to soft tissue injuries, and it wasn’t a surprise to see the higher game speed cause some issues relatively early in the process.

Jokić’s wrist injury appears to be connected to his previous right wrist sprain he sustained last season and in the bubble.

“I would say right now, Jamal is probably doubtful for tomorrow, and I’d say Nikola is probably doubtful as well.”

The Nuggets have very little reason to rush Jokić and Murray back into preseason action. The Nuggets are counting on their starters carrying the day during the regular season. Though absences for Denver’s stars can make life difficult for a starting unit attempting to develop chemistry, the long term health is far more important.

“There’s long term concern in terms how how we approach the day-to-day,” Malone said of Murray’s extended recovery process, “And being smart, being prudent about how we look at his today, tomorrow, a week, a month, three months from now.”

“Very much a big picture perspective.”

Expect the Nuggets to be exceedingly cautious over the next week of preseason games. The Nuggets play the Phoenix Suns on Monday, then travel to California to play the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday and the Golden State Warriors on Friday. Don’t be surprised if Murray and Jokić miss all three of those games, while Michael Porter Jr. sits out one as well.