The Denver Nuggets expect to have All-Star center Nikola Jokic at their disposal for the NBA’s restart, head coach Michael Malone said.
Jokic remains in his native Serbia having reportedly tested positive for coronavirus as the NBA plans to resume after the 2019-20 season was suspended in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The league is set to return via a 22-team format at the Disney World complex in Orlando, Fla., on July 30, with the New Orleans Pelicans, Utah Jazz, Los Angeles Lakers and LA Clippers in action on the first day back.
Denver is scheduled to resume its campaign against the Miami Heat in the Orlando bubble on August 1, and the Nuggets expect Jokic to return to the United States in time.
“Nikola feels great,” Malone told reporters via a Zoom call on Wednesday. “We are working on getting him back here.
“Next Tuesday we depart for Orlando; the hope and expectation is that Nikola Jokic will be with us on that plane.
“From everything that I have heard and talked to him, he feels great, he feels fine and is excited to get back.”
Prior to the coronavirus crisis, Jokic was averaging 20.2 points, 10.2 rebounds and 6.9 assists per game for the Nuggets.
The Nuggets were third in the Western Conference with a 43-22 record, behind leaders the Lakers (49-14) and the Clippers (44-20).
Denver, meanwhile, opted to close down their practice facility following COVID-19 cases.
“We have closed down the facility,” Malone confirmed. “We felt it was the right thing to do. Today was supposed to be the first day of Phase 3 where all our players were required to be back in the gym and we are allowed to work with them albeit just 1-on-0.
“We have put the safety of our team ahead of this Phase 3. There is a chance we can open the gym up before we leave, depending upon results in the coming days. I am not going to get into who tested but we have had multiple people in our travel party test positive.”
Amid the unprecedented situation, Malone feels this season’s NBA championship will be the toughest ever contested.
“There has been this ongoing dialogue and conversation that whoever wins it this year, there will be an asterisk by their name and I don’t buy that at all,” Malone later added.
“If you are able to go into a bubble and be isolated from your friends and family, to have no home-court advantage, to have a league interruption of four months and you are able to spend 90 days and come out of there a champion, I think this will be the toughest championship ever won. There is no asterisk.”