DENVER — Nuggets standout big man Nikola Jokic sat out the entire fourth quarter of Tuesday's loss at Dallas. It was a move that Michael Malone shortly afterward described as a "coach's decision" but implied was because of lack of effort.
It was the most dramatic turn during a recent production dip for Jokic, who has followed a dynamite February with three consecutive single-digit scoring outputs entering Wednesday's quick rematch against Cleveland.
Jokic, who is averaging 16.7 points, 10.5 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game this season, said in the locker room minutes after the Dallas loss that he had not yet spoken to his coach about why he remained on the bench in crunch time. By Wednesday evening, however, a discussion had taken place.
Malone's primary message to Jokic? Be aggressive.
"Nikola can't take seven shots a night for us," Malone said during his pregame availability. "Granted, he is unselfish, he makes the right play and I love all that. But Nikola needs to be aggressive. I want him taking 15 shots, 18 shots and (looking) to score in the post. Now, when he draws a double- and triple-team, then make the right play.
"I told him we need to get him back being a lot more aggressive and stop deferring to everybody. He's our best player, and we need him to step up in these last 18 games."
Malone said Jokic "agreed" overall with his coach's assessment. But Jokic also reminded that it took time for him and Paul Millsap, who returned last week from wrist surgery, to gel at the beginning of the season. To Malone, "aggressive" means more than just scoring for Jokic. The coach pointed to Jokic's sharp decline in offensive rebounds, entering Wednesday with an average of 2.7 on the season but just 0.8 over his past four games.
Malone applauds mental-health openess
Cavaliers forward Kevin Love's first-person piece for The Players' Tribune about his battle with mental health, including an in-game panic attack, has drawn overwhelming praise inside and outside the NBA community over the past two days.
Malone was the latest to commend both Love and Toronto guard DeMar DeRozan, whose public openness about his bout with depression inspired Love to share his story.
"It's great that today's players are comfortable enough to open up on such a private matter," Malone said. "This is not basketball. This is not 'I'm struggling with my free throw' ... I have a lot of respect for Kevin and DeMar."
When asked about the Nuggets' protocol should a player be dealing with a mental health matter, Malone said he trusted that director of sports medicine Steve Short has the "proper channels" in place to recommend help as needed.
Two-way rookie guard Monte Morris was transferred back to the G League's Rio Grande Valley Vipers. Morris has appeared in three games for the Nuggets this season.