Coach Malone has declared the Nuggets at full strength.
Sorry, fans, that does not include Michael Porter Jr. Even if it did, there’s enough adjustment that needs to be made currently and integrating another player, a rookie at that would put more of a burden on the young Nuggets. MPJ will have to be for another day.
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As it is, the Nuggets are working Isaiah Thomas and Gary Harris back into game shape following return from injury. Jamal Murray was nursing an ankle, Paul Millsap has been in and out with various, minor ailments. Hopefully the week off has given all those little nagging ailments time to fully heal. Harris and Millsap are integral to keeping the Nuggets from bottoming out defensively.
With the playoffs virtually certain, it’s imperative that the Nuggets protect the health of their core, specifically Nikola Jokic. The Nuggets big man has been as durable as you could ask over the last two seasons and an injury to him would be devastating. Denver is resilient enough to play without any of its stars for short bursts but extended absences take their toll. Will Barton is a good example, he was out long enough that it taxed the Nuggets bench, Juan Hernangomez in particular who played more minutes than he was prepared for, got hurt and has fallen out of the rotation.
Worse, Barton’s return has been filled with fits-and-starts, almost like Thrill was gone too long and the team has passed him by. Juancho filled in admirably to start and Torrey Craig followed with his own breakout performances. The platoon at small forward worked well for Denver, they seemed to settle in to that reality and it’s been difficult to re-integrate Barton.
Harris could face similar issues considering how well Malik Beasley has played in place of the injured star. While Beasley has played better and more consistently than expected, it’s important to remember that a healthy Gary Harris is among the best two-guards in the NBA. He just has to get and remain healthy, something that’s eluded him this season.
There are just 25 games left, that’s 25 games to set the rotation that will take the Denver Nuggets into the playoffs. Thomas and Harris have to find or recapture their spots. Everyone has to learn new players, new lineups. As long as the Nuggets collective health holds, they should be able to solidify each player’s role.
We know what a healthy starting five can bring but production has to go deeper than the starters. Denver needs more from rotation players: