DENVER — Jamal Murray is never one for excuses, that was crystal clear during the 20-year-old’s rookie season with the Denver Nuggets. But Denver’s starting point guard Tuesday night even admitted that tired legs may have contributed to Denver’s poor shooting as a team against the Thunder.
Following the loss, coach Michael Malone candidly admitted that Denver has had a “demanding” training camp and preseason and that he’s worked his team pretty rigorously over the past few weeks. The Nuggets shot just 34 percent from the field and 33 percent from three versus Oklahoma City and Denver’s coach cited “fatigue” and alleged that his players’ legs “were gone.” Many of the shots the Nuggets missed were short — a common side effect of tired legs.
“I mean, you’re going to feel it every night, but you can’t blame it on tired legs for missing shots,” Murray said following the loss. “Guys are tired and they still make them. I’m sure the other team was tired as well. You cant put it on fatigue, you just got to go out there and make it.”
For a team that had averaged roughly 116 points per game and shot over 40 percent from the field in all of their four previous preseason contests, Tuesday night’s shooting display certainly came as a shock. The Thunder are a solid defensive team and could be elite on that end of the floor with the plus-defenders on their roster, but the Nuggets were consistently generating open shots within the rhythm of their offense throughout the game.
Perhaps it was fatigue and tired legs. Maybe it was the fact that Denver shot for the first time on the Pepsi Center main court at Tuesday morning’s shootaround. Whatever it was, it was just one of those nights where the shots didn’t fall.
“We just didn’t shoot the ball well,” Murray said. “We got a lot of open looks. We executed well. Shots didn’t go down for us that we normally make.”
“I’m so open, everybody is telling me to shoot it but for me, it’s not going down so I just got to be thinking about the next shot,” Murray continued. “Not worry about the last one.”
That’s how Murray rolls. The 6-foot-3 guard has always had a shooter’s mentality – one where his previous shot, make or miss, doesn’t matter. He’ll keep shooting until he can shoot no more.
Its been an up-and-down preseason for Murray. Malone called his seven-point showing in Los Angeles last Monday against the Lakers “very tentative” and “very passive,” and Murray responded two nights later with 20 points, most of which came on five three-pointers. While Murray didn’t let his jumper fly as often on Tuesday, Malone said he saw a more aggressive and less passive Murray again.
“There are games where I’ll start off slow and I’ll come out for the second-half and I won’t miss a shot,” Murray said bluntly. “I’m not worried about missing.”
In the heat of a point guard competition that Malone claims is still not decided, Murray doesn’t know his place in the rotation. The Kitchener, Ontario native says it doesn’t affect him and he just goes out and plays his game no matter which lineup he’s with. The meditation Murray has done most of his life helps him too.
But Murray liked the chemistry that the starting group Tuesday night had together. He thinks they moved the ball well, get open looks, and executed. The shots just didn’t fall.
Even though Malone said he has a good idea of who he’s going to start on Oct. 18 in Utah, he might not name a starter or backup prior to that game.
“I think they drafted me for a reason and they like my game so I don’t like to go out there and over-think how to get the starting spot,” Murray said. “I just go out there and play basketball.”
Murray spoke to reporters after Tuesday night’s loss from an empty locker room except for a few scattered team employees. The reason? After the game, Murray ventured upstairs to the Nuggets’ weight room for a postgame lift. Once he returned, showered and dressed, his teammates were long gone. Murray said he’d likely return to the practice court for shots later that night but by that time, midnight will already have come and gone.
“I’ll be back tonight,” the quiet, second-year guard said with a smile. “You can’t keep me out.”
Because of the fatigue, Malone canceled Wednesday’s practice. He instructed all of his players to stay off their feet and get a day of rest. After five games, three wins and two losses, the Nuggets are done with preseason basketball and have eight days until their regular season opener in Utah. There will be plenty of time to get shots up and work out some of the kinks in their new defensive scheme.
Don’t tell that to Murray, though. He’ll be at the facility bright and early.