The theme of Monday's inaugural Nuggets team dinner carried over to Tuesday's first practice.

Defense, defense and more defense.

The Nuggets' quest to improve on that end of the floor began with the opening of training camp. And coach Michael Malone knows the questions will not subside until his team proves it can better complement its potent offense with more competence at the defensive end.

"Will our team commit? Will our team buy in? Will our team hold each other accountable every single night?" Malone questioned. "If we make some major growth on that end of the floor, if we're able to close out and win close games, I think we can make a significant jump from last season."

Malone arrived in Denver with a reputation as a defensive coach. But last season the Nuggets ranked 29th out of 30 NBA teams in defensive rating (110.5), 29th in opponent field-goal percentage (47.7) and 27th in opponent points per game (111.2).

The addition of power forward Paul Millsap, a 2016 NBA second-team all-defensive selection, should help, though Malone said it's "unfair" to put that entire responsibility on one player. Instead, coaches have devised an overall scheme that's more simplified with execution that's more aggressive, particularly in defending the pick-and-roll.


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The idea was concocted while watching the 2017 playoffs and solidified during a summer meeting with Millsap. The Nuggets' big men will come up and switch onto the guard on the pick-and-roll more frequently in an effort to attack the ball-handler, take away the 3-point shot and force opponents to drill tough jumpers inside the arc.

"If you can put pressure on those guys and make them make tough decisions, I think it makes it a little easier on us," Millsap said.

This style also naturally fits reserve posts Mason Plumlee, Kenneth Faried, Trey Lyles and Darrell Arthur. Yet it will challenge the footwork and awareness of third-year center Nikola Jokic.

Malone, however, recalls a game against Charlotte during Jokic's rookie season in which he did an "amazing job" switching onto dynamic point guard Kemba Walker throughout the fourth quarter of a Nuggets victory.

"I know he can do it," Malone said. "Now the challenge is going to be buying in, committing and doing it consistently."

Malone's overall goal is for the Nuggets to get one more stop per half, or 164 more stops in a season. The coach calculated that would have elevated his team to 12th in the NBA in defensive efficiency last season. And that progress would also assist the Nuggets' up-tempo offense by allowing them to get out more often in transition off of rebounds.

The defensive quest officially started with Tuesday's first practice, which featured drills in which players went 1-on-1, 3-on-3, 4-on-4, 5-on-4 and 5-on-5. The effort was good, Malone said.

Malone will harp on defense throughout the season, if necessary. But the players know they must ultimately hold each other accountable in order to show improvement.

"Teams may get an offensive rebound, (but) we've got to continue to play," Millsap said. "Defense isn't over until we get the ball."