Nuggets have unlikely leader who constantly reminds them they’re champs

Feb 9, 2024, 6:24 PM | Updated: 6:31 pm

LAS VEGAS — It takes more than just the coach to keep the Denver Nuggets motivated — and to remind them of what they are.

Sometimes, it has to come from the players, within themselves. And a day after the Nuggets stormed into downtown Los Angeles and strode out with a 114-106 win on a night when the Lakers honored Kobe Bryant with the unveiling of a stature commemorating the two-time scoring champion, TNT’s Kevin Harlan — who called the game to a national-television audience — offered a story that summed up how leadership comes from all corners of the locker room.

Even from a player not even averaging a dozen minutes a game in just 27 games played this year.

Center DeAndre Jordan ranks 11th on the Nuggets in minutes per game. But the 35-year-old is also a centering presence in the locker room. And as Nuggets coach Michael Malone shared, that manifests itself in a simple — but effective — manner.

“Michael Malone told us a great story (Thursday) night,” Harlan recalled. “He said, ‘You know, sometimes we can forget that we’re the defending champions.'”

It might seem absurd, but as the season goes on, sometimes that gets lost.

As Malone said, that’s where Jordan comes in.

“And DeAndre Jordan, before we go out, he’ll look at everybody and he’ll say, ‘Remember, we are the champions. We’re the defending champions of the NBA. They’re chasing us. We’re not chasing them,” as Harlan related, sharing Malone’s vignette.

“Sometimes, you’ve gotta tell yourself that, because it’s a long season. There are a lot of games. There’s a lot of traveling. The message can get lost.”

That sort of mindset has helped the Nuggets stay on course for a repeat, as Harlan sees it.

“It’s hard to play great all the time. But since December [11], they’re 22-7. They’re meeting the challenge,” Harlan said.

They wanted Boston — and that was a shot across the bow, saying, ‘Hey, here is what we are, not only just the defending champions, but as relevant this year as we were last on our championship march, and we may see each other again in June. Just beware.'”


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