Denver coach Michael Malone says complacency is the biggest obstacle to the Nuggets’ bid to repeat as NBA champions.
“We’re going to get everybody’s best 82 games this year,” Malone said as the team gathered this week to open training camp. “And we’ve gone from being a team that has been hunting the teams in front of us to now, we’re going to be the hunted.
“Hopefully, our guys understand the responsibility that comes with being a defending champion.”
The Nuggets powered through the post-season, losing just four playoff games on the way to a maiden NBA crown last June.
NBA Finals MVP Nikola Jokic, who spearheaded a title run capped by a five-game victory over the Miami Heat in the championship series, made it clear that a repeat is the aim, as did teammate Jamal Murray.
Murray noted that Nuggets will have to weather “adversity and ups and downs” during the long regular season to put themselves in position come the playoffs.
“I just think we can do it again,” he said, Jokic adding that the immediate goal is “just to win as much games as possible and try to have fun”.
The Nuggets open the season on October 24 against LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers — the team they swept in last season’s Western Conference finals.
They bring back their starting five of Jokic, Murray, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Michael Porter Jr. and Aaron Gordon, but key bench contributor Bruce Brown departed to Indiana as a free agent.
Things have changed around them, perhaps most notably with seven-time All-Star Damian Lillard set to team with two-time NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounpo in Milwaukee after a trade from Portland, and former Bucks star Jrue Holiday now in Boston.
French phenomenon Victor Wembanyama has arrived in San Antonio carrying the highest expectations for a number one draft pick since LeBron James.
Malone, however, said the key to contending for a repeat will be his team’s attitude.
“John Wooden, the legendary coach of UCLA, had a great quote, and I think it applies to our group: ‘To win, you have to have talent. To repeat, you have to have character’,” Malone said.
“We have talent, but are we going to be thinking about last season? Because in my eyes, last season’s over.
“If we’re serious about being a team that can repeat, if we’re serious about trying to be a team that can be a dynasty, we have to bring our best every single day.”