Nuggets coach Michael Malone lives to tell story of his NBA championship pursuit getting run over by a truck.

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LA JOLLA, Calif. — The last thing Nuggets coach Michael Malone did before taking a charge from a 4,500-pound truck was curse. After dedicating his adult life to the pursuit of an NBA championship, the basketball gods were going to let Malone’s dream die this way?

“It’s rush hour. Bumper-to-bumper traffic on the highway, So I come to a stop, look up to check the rearview mirror. And I see this frickin’ blue-and-white old Ford pickup truck, barreling down on me,” Malone said.

“The guy never hit his brakes. I have just enough time to say: ‘Bleep!’ And then … boom!”

On the next to last day of summer, exactly one week before Malone opened training camp as coach of the Nuggets for the eighth time, he walked out of Ball Arena and hopped in his Chevy Silverado, with assistant Ryan “Ry-Bo” Bowen riding shotgun. They headed south down the highway so both coaches could be home in time for dinner.

Checking a traffic app on his cellphone, Bowen directed Malone to take the off-ramp from Interstate 25 to Santa Fe Boulevard, where they quickly came to an abrupt stop.

“Next thing I know, I hear Coach yelling, ‘Ry-Bo, bleep!’ Then I glance over to the passenger side mirror. Oh my god,” Bowen recalled. “The guy plowed into us; we rammed into the car in front of us. It all happened so quick. It was like a NASCAR pile-up.”

When the airbags pop, there’s a flash of white light. For an anxious heartbeat, amid the heavy-metal sounds of destruction, there can be reason to wonder if the basketball gods have ended the game and sent you to the showers.

“You know how scary it is?” Malone told me. “The whole thing happened in a blink of an eye. But it felt like an eternity. You see this truck coming, you brace for impact and …”

When you get plowed by a pick-up truck, is it a block or charge?

Malone and Bowen have worked together for nearly a decade, back to the time when they were both employed by the Sacramento Kings. In Denver, they have endured everything from 83 days of isolation in the NBA bubble to shouldering the agony of Jamal Murray when the point guard tore up his knee.

They’ve come too far together in pursuit of a championship ring to have the journey ended by a runaway pick-up truck.

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