Why not? Murray, Jokic thinking Nuggets repeat

DENVER — Sitting next to the Larry O’Brien trophy again at an interview table, Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray are thinking about doing it all over again and winning a second championship.

While the NBA has been buzzing this offseason about moves that several contenders like the Milwaukee Bucks, Boston Celtics and Phoenix Suns made, the Denver Nuggets are looking forward to reminding who won the championship and trying to repeat.

“I just think we can do it again,” Murray said at Nuggets media day on Monday. “I think that’s the biggest thing, just being able to repeat and go through the adversity and ups and downs of this season. Just be ready by April and going to June.”

After adding a championship and Finals MVP to his two MVP trophies last season, Jokic spent his summer back in home of Sombor, Serbia, celebrating and relaxing.

Now that he is back, Jokic echoed Murray’s goal of winning a second ring.

“Just to win as much games as possible and try to have fun during that period,” Jokic said of the next step for him this season. “Go get the opportunity to win another one. Probably that’s going to be the next step for us.

“Like Jamal said, like why not win again?”

While the Nuggets return their championship starting five of Jokic, Murray, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Michael Porter Jr. and Aaron Gordon, the champions will have to replace their biggest piece off the bench in Bruce Brown. Brown signed with Indiana in free agency. Veteran reserves Jeff Green and Ish Smith, both vocal leaders, also are not returning.

But more than anything, head coach Michael Malone warns that the biggest adjustment this season for Denver could be in approach and attitude as defending champions and letting go of the Nuggets’ historic title run in bringing Denver its first-ever NBA championship.

“It’s definitely a concern,” Malone said. “John Wooden, the legendary coach at UCLA had a great quote and I think applies to our group: to win, you have to have talent. To repeat, you have to have character… We have talent. But are we going to be thinking about last season? Because in my eyes, last season is over.”

The Nuggets know Damian Lillard is now in Milwaukee, Jrue Holiday is a Celtic and Bradley Beal is in Phoenix. But every team has to find a way to topple Denver, which has a championship duo in Jokic and Murray that could get better this season.

Malone said he plans to challenge Murray take what he did during last postseason and do it in the regular season. Murray averaged 26.1 points, 7.1 assists, 5.7 rebounds and shot 39.6% from 3 while averaging 40 minutes in 20 postseason games.

“My goal for Jamal, my challenge for Jamal is to show that you can do what you did in 20 playoff games,” Malone said. “Because what Jamal did in the playoffs was ridiculous.

“… I want him to be the first-time All-Star this year. I want Jamal Murray to be an All-NBA player. He’s got to do it in October, he’s got to do it in November. He can’t be the slow start. The guys that are on top of their game, they bring it every single night.”

Malone also said he would like to see Jokic grow even more as a leader with vocal leaders like Green and Smith gone.

“I think that the greatest challenge for Nikola is to continue to find ways to be a leader, to be more vocal,” Malone said. “I never tell Nikola to go home and work on his lefty jump hook. [For a] few years, it was growing up, handling adversity, getting in better shape, getting stronger, and he’s a two-time MVP, he’s a world champion. But there’s always room for growth.

“… I want Jamal and Nikola to take ownership of his team.”

The two stars started off the season by stating the goal publicly. On Tuesday in San Diego where Denver is holding its camp, the Nuggets will begin their title defense in their first practice.

“I can’t wait to get to opening night, raise the banner, receive a ring, and that’s the cherry on top,” Malone said. “But this a brand new year. Things change quickly in the NBA. Think about the last week, the NBA landscape has shifted dramatically in a week’s time right before we start this year.

“So last season is over. We have a new responsibility and 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.”

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