Idle Nuggets hold light practice, waiting for Celts and Heat to decide NBA Finals foe

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DENVER (AP) — Denver Nuggets guard Bruce Brown has been using the long layoff before the start of the NBA Finals to work on his game — his golf game.

“First day of golf I played pretty well,” Brown recounted. “The second day was terrible."

On Friday, it was back to the business of Brown hitting the shots he hits the best — jumpers — as the Nuggets returned to the court for a light practice. Game 1 of the franchise's first appearance in an NBA Finals is still nearly a week away and their opponent has yet to be determined, with Boston and Miami heading into Game 6 of its Eastern Conference finals series.

The rest has certainly been welcome. The rust, though, does become a concern.

"It’s impossible to keep your rhythm if you’re not playing games,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “You can do whatever you want in practice, but there’s no way you can replicate playing in an NBA playoff game."

The Nuggets celebrated sweeping the Los Angeles Lakers on the plane ride home. It bought them a day off Tuesday and an optional day Wednesday (although, quite a few players showed up). On Thursday, there were conditioning drills and individual drills before reassembling on the practice floor Friday. The intensity will pick up closer to the start of the series Thursday — and once they know who they're facing (the Heat lead 3-2 with the series shifting to Miami on Saturday).

“Right now, as I told our players, this is about us," Malone said. "We have to shore up who we are and address the areas that we have not been maybe good enough or areas that we can clean up.”

Before the break, Nikola Jokic, guard Jamal Murray and the Nuggets were cruising along, too, turning in a 12-3 mark in the postseason. Murray's biggest piece of advice — keep practicing like they expect to play.

“Don’t pick up bad habits throughout this week,” Murray said. “Just being able to stay locked in. You don’t want to get relaxed. I think that’s the biggest — we don’t want to relax and just wait. We want to stay sharp.”

Murray took the opportunity Thursday night to tune into the Stanley Cup playoffs. He watched the green team (his description of the Dallas Stars) knock off the white team (his description of the Vegas Golden Knights) in overtime during Game 4 of the Western Conference finals. He said the contest drove home an important lesson — to play with an intensity all game especially on defense.

“Our defense is being played with intent,” Murray said. “We’ve all been on a string. When we need a stop, we all lock in, even if we don’t get it, we lock in and try and get it possession-by-possession. I think that’s crucial at this stage."

Same with maintaining a balance between hoops and home life. Malone said his family has helped keep him grounded.

“I can’t go home and be in like Game 7 mindset, because my wife and kids would leave me,” Malone said. “I have to force myself to take a deep breath and remind myself that I am a husband, I am a father and to be a part of my family.”

This weekend, Malone may even play some pickleball — just to take his mind off a grinding series that lies ahead. It could be Jayson Tatum and the Celtics. Or Jimmy Butler and the Heat, the eight seed that made it into the playoffs through the play-in tournament.

For Brown, no matter who it is, the game will be a reunion of sorts. He’s from Boston and went to college at the University of Miami.

“But if we did go to Boston, it would be a lot of tickets,” Brown joked. “So it would be really expensive.”

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