The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Gina Mizell Gina Mizell: gmizell@den­ver­ or @gi­namizell

Nuggets coach Michael Malone ap­proached Gary Har­ris and Ja­mal Mur­ray Thurs­day with a chal­lenge.

Malone told Har­ris, the Nuggets’ start­ing shoot­ing guard, that he must av­er­age more than the 1.8 re­bounds he cor­ralled dur­ing the pre­sea­son. The coach told Mur­ray, a 6-foot-5 start­ing point guard con­tender, that he needed to crash the glass in games like he did dur­ing train­ing camp in Boul­der two weeks ago.

That was Malone re­mind­ing his play­ers that the Nuggets need re­bound­ing from all five po­si­tions in or­der to stay near the top of the NBA in that cat­e­gory this sea­son. Den­ver took a sur­pris­ing and sig­nif­i­cant dip dur­ing the pre­sea­son, sud­denly mak­ing it an area that re­quires a fix be­fore Wed­nes­day’s opener at Utah.

“By no means am I sit­ting there pan­ick­ing,” Malone said. “I’ve made note of it. Hope­fully, when we start the real games, re­bound­ing won’t be an is­sue, be­cause it hasn’t been the last two years I’ve been here.”

The Nuggets ranked 25th in the league in re­bound­ing per­cent­age (47.3) and 19th in to­tal re­bounds (42.2 per game) dur­ing the pre­sea­son, af­ter fin­ish­ing sec­ond in the lat­ter cat­e­gory dur­ing last year’s reg­u­lar sea­son (46.4 per game). Den­ver also ranked 29th in the pre­sea­son in de­fen­sive re­bound­ing per­cent­age (76.9), which cal­cu­lates how many re­bounds a team ac­tu­ally con­trols out of the po­ten­tial op­por­tu­ni­ties. Though the Nuggets lost Danilo Gal­li­nari’s ca­reer av­er­age of 4.7 re­bounds per game via an off­sea­son sign-and-trade, they added Paul Mill­sap’s ca­reer av­er­age of 7.5 in free agency.

Malone at­tributes part of the re­bound­ing strug­gles to the na­ture of the pre­sea­son, when the coach ex­per­i­mented with a va­ri­ety of line­ups and Den­ver’s starters did not play their full dose of min­utes. The coach said pri­mary big men Mill­sap (6.5 re­bounds per game dur­ing the pre­sea­son), Nikola Jo­kic (6.5) and Ma­son Plum­lee (7.6) are do­ing a “pretty good” job on the boards. Re­bound­ing is also a long­time strength of Kenneth Faried, who is com­pet­ing for backup power for­ward min­utes.

But Malone ex­pects start­ing small for­ward Wil­son Chan­dler to av­er­age seven re­bounds per game, Har­ris to av­er­age at least four, and Mur­ray to be a le­git­i­mate threat from the perime­ter.

“We play re­ally good de­fense, the shot goes up and we all ‘ball watch’ as (the op­po­nent is) crash­ing the glass,” Malone said.

Dur­ing prac­tice drills in which the Nuggets keep score, a lineup loses a point if it sur­ren­ders an of­fen­sive re­bound. That area has been pri­or­i­tized dur­ing film study. Plum­lee stresses bet­ter re­bound­ing will nat­u­rally as­sist the Nuggets’ de­fense, which al­lowed an av­er­age of 47.2 points in the paint per game dur­ing the pre­sea­son.

But Mill­sap be­lieves the trick to fix­ing the Nuggets’ re­bound­ing woes is sim­ple.

“Just do it,” he said.


The Nuggets cut Josh Chil­dress from their train­ing camp ros­ter prior to Thurs­day’s prac­tice. That re­duces their ros­ter to 17 play­ers, in­clud­ing “two-way” signees Monte Mor­ris and Tor­rey Craig, who will spend 45 days with the Nuggets in 201718 and the rest of the sea­son in the G League. … Af­ter a day off Wed­nes­day, Malone called Thurs­day’s prac­tice “av­er­age, at best,” irked by the low en­ergy. … Malone did not give an up­date on the on­go­ing start­ing point guard bat­tle, jok­ing “I didn’t think at all” about it dur­ing the Nuggets’ off day.

Sean M. Haffey, Getty Im­ages

Lak­ers rookie Lonzo Ball grabs a re­bound over the Nuggets’ Em­manuel Mu­diay in a pre­sea­son game Oct. 2.

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