Given an extended six-day break around last Sunday’s All-Star Game — extended for everyone other than All-Star Nikola Jokic, of course — the banged-up Nuggets got healthy this past week.
Or, at least, healthier.
Veteran power forward Paul Millsap returned to practice Thursday in Memphis after being inactive for the last 10 games, while rookie guards Facundo Campazzo and Markus Howard both cleared the NBA’s contact tracing requirements after missing Denver’s past three games.
Those returns could cut the Nuggets’ inactive list in half when they resume their season Friday night at FedExForum against the Grizzlies. Gary Harris (adductor) and R.J. Hampton (COVID-19 protocol) both remain out, while Millsap and JaMychal Green (shoulder) were listed as questionable on the injury report.
Now it’s just a matter of integrating those players back into a rotation that closed out the first half of the regular season with a 4-0 road trip through the Midwest.
“The challenge now is to try and find that rhythm that we had going into that break and come out with the same type of rhythm,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said Thursday. “… We have a group that is playing really well at a high level right now on both ends of the floor, and when we get guys back available we’ll work them back into the rotation.”
If there was one downside about the timing of the All-Star Break, it’s that it came just as the Nuggets appeared to be finding a groove.
Jamal Murray conjured up images of his “Bubble” form with averages of 28.5 points, 4.9 assists and 4.7 rebounds while shooting 55.4% from the floor (47.0 from deep) over the past 12 games. Jokic was three assists shy of going into the break with four consecutive triple-doubles (the All-Star center settled for two). And Michael Porter Jr. responded to an inartfully executed fast break that cost Denver a home loss to the Wizards with three double-doubles in four games.
The latter development appeared to be especially critical, given that it came with Porter slotted in as the starting four while Millsap (knee) and Green were sidelined by injuries.
Whether or not that arrangement will continue when Millsap or Green become available is for Malone to figure out. Millsap, himself, expressed little concern following Thursday’s practice.
“We’re going to always get in where we get in,” Millsap said. “… We’ve always been a team for years that’s been able to adjust on the fly and next-man-up mentality, and guys stepping in and playing significant roles. We’re not going to change that.
“… I think that’s what’s been great about our team, especially this year — Michael Porter stepping up and doing what he’s doing, an unbelievable job, Zeke (Nnaji), Facu. All these guys have done a great job.”
The Nuggets return home after Friday night’s game in Memphis for a five-game homestand. That starts Saturday night with a meeting against surging Dallas, which entered Thursday night just 1 1/2 games behind the Nuggets for the sixth spot in the Western Conference — just outside play-in territory.
“It’s always tough on coach to get guys back acclimated, you know, especially myself, JaMychel, who’s been out, and a few other guys who have been out,” Millsap said. “But I’m a vet and we’ve got a lot of vets on this team, so it should be an easy transition.”
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