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Inside Michael Malone’s unique way of injecting energy into practice

Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Down by two and in need of a steal and a score with under 10 seconds remaining in a March 2016 matchup against the Dallas Mavericks, the Nuggets got a clutch defensive play from their head coach.

With Chandler Parsons inbounding the ball near Denver's bench, Michael Malone played the role of the Nuggets' sixth defender, jumping up and down next to Parsons and mirroring his movements. Parsons threw the ball away, and the Nuggets tied the score a few moments later, thanks in part to their coach's sideline defense.

That late-game sequence versus Dallas provided a glimpse into Malone's engaging personality and presence on the sideline during games, which can also trickle over to the practice court from time to time.

At Nuggets training camp, videos posted by the team's Twitter account showing the 47-year-old coach getting into the mix at team practices went viral. One video in particular showed Malone, who played point guard for Loyola University (Maryland) from 1989-92, showing off his handle by dribbling the ball around the three-point arc, performing his best John Stockton impression while guarded by Jamal Murray.

In the same video, Malone receives a screen from assistant coach Ryan Bowen, dribbles around the 6-foot-9 former pro before Paul Millsap switches onto his coach.

There's a method to Malone inserting himself into drills at practice, and this year's training camp wasn't the first time he's gotten in a sweat alongside his players.

During the 2011 NBA lockout when Malone was an assistant coach in Golden State, the Warriors' coaching staff attended a San Francisco 49ers practice run by then-head coach Jim Harbaugh. Malone couldn't help but notice how when Harbaugh went through drills with his team, the entire mood of the 49ers practice changed. All of a sudden, Malone remembered, it felt like a college practice, and the vibe at the 49ers facility turned positive almost immediately.

"I played D1 ball a long time ago and was a below average player," Malone said. "But when I get out there it seems like that just brings the energy up even more."

Malone averaged 5.2 points, 2.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists in 27 minutes per game for Loyola during his senior season. He finished his Greyhounds career with 370 points, 279 assists, and 79 steals.

"I was coach's son," Malone said. "A smart, heady player."

What kind of player is Malone these days? It's best to ask Denver's top two point guards, who have both gone up against him in practice.

"He's got a good IQ, he knows the game," Monte Morris said reeling off a quick scouting report. "He knows how to pass, he can knock down the open shot and he's real vocal. Coach is a real vocal dude. He's definitely a leader. He can shoot the three."

"I guess playing with us keeps him in shape, or whatever it does for him," said Jamal Murray, who staunchly maintains that Malone has never stolen the ball from him. "Just talk to him, he'll laugh and lose the ball."

Like Malone hoped when he first started jumping into Nuggets practices, the intensity rises when he's on the floor.

No one wants to get stripped by their head coach. If Malone sinks a three in someone's eyes, that player will probably be the butt of his teammates' jokes for the next week. If you can't get a bucket or clean look against Malone and Bowen, how are you going to score against Rudy Gobert and the Utah Jazz?

"Now guys are setting the best screens they've ever set on me. They're in a stance playing defense because it's me," Malone said. "I've got to hypnotize them to say every guy you guard tonight's going to look just like me."

"A little bit," Nikola Jokic said when asked if he sets his screens a little harder on Malone. "But we are not going to say that."

Malone's willingness to get out on the floor during practices strikes a chord with his players. They love how involved he is on a day-to-day basis. Denver's core of Murray, Jokic Gary Harris and Will Barton all have a strong bond with their coach, and Malone's relationship with Isaiah Thomas was a key factor in the free agent signing with the Nuggets this summer.

"A lot of coaches don't get out there with the team," said Morris. "So when your coach gets out there with high energy and high intensity, you just vibe with him and it builds that chemistry."

Seeing Malone out on the practice court energizes Denver's roster. It also shows Nuggets players that he's one of them.

"He's really passionate. He really cares about basketball and the Denver Nuggets and about us," Jokic said. "He just wants to maybe pick up the energy, to get involved. I like it. I think it's a good thing. It doesn't mean that we are separate. It means we are the same team."

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