BIG Injuries in Denver
Injuries are a part of the NBA, a big part. Injuries can change the course of a season and decide championships and unfortunately, this season has been no different. It started this season in the very first quarter of the very first game when Gordon Hayward went up to catch a pass and came down horribly, ending his season and many thought the season of the Celtics. However, the Celtics have been able to achieve amazing success despite Hayward’s horrible injury. Meanwhile, in the Western Conference the Denver Nuggets have had their own injury woes to big time players lately.
The Nuggets frontcourt has been decimated by injuries. Paul Millsap, the huge free agent signing, was injured in a mid November game with the Los Angeles Lakers. The diagnosis was a torn ligament in his left wrist that would need up to 3 months to heal. That was followed by Wilson Chandler having back issues a week later, which cleared the way for the sprained ankle that would derail Nikola Jokic a few days later. The Nuggets starting front court is out with injuries and the Nuggets are going to need some big time play from their prized young guards to stay afloat in the very competitive Western Conference.
While the loss of Wilson Chandler is not a huge blow for the Nuggets. Millsap and Jokic being injured are devastating to their team. Paul Millsap has been huge for the Nuggets this season. Although his stats are somewhat pedestrian, he has provided a steady hand for a young team. Millsap’s offensive and defensive versatility made him an ideal partner with Jokic. Not many teams have two bigs that can pass the way that Jokic and Millsap can.
Nikola Jokic is a huge loss for the Nuggets. He is the key to many of the things that they do as a team. He is the best passing big man in the league and his ability to serve as a ball handler and playmaker allow the Nuggets to get away without playing a traditional point guard. Jokic’s stats are not going to win him an MVP award, but his ability to pass and shoot allow him to serve as a floor spacer that can pick apart defenses. He is shooting over 40% from three and just over 73% at the rim.
If the Nuggets hope to make the playoffs, they are going to need Jokic, Millsap, and Chandler. The good news for them is that Jokic and Chandler are not out for months and might be back before the end of this week. While they are away though, it is important that the Nuggets stay afloat and get as many wins as possible to avoid any kind of losing streak. Currently, they are seeded 4th in the Western Conference with only 1.5 games separating them and the 8th seeded Pelicans.
The Nuggets played their first game without all three against the Lakers and thanks to a big game from Jamal Murray, in addition to double digit scoring efforts from Gary Harris, Mason Plumlee, Will Barton, Trey Lyles, and Kenneth Faried, they won going away. However, their luck may be changing. The Nuggets will now embark on a six game road trip and going 1-5 or 2-4 could be damaging for them. They open it up against Dallas, followed by a game against New Orleans. They play four Eastern Conference teams including the Magic, Pacers, Pistons, and Celtics. This road trip will be huge for the Nuggets’ young backcourt of Gary Harris and Jamal Murray. With their team fully healthy, those two are asked to contribute. Without Jokic and Millsap the Nuggets need Murray and Harris to score the ball.
Jamal Murray has really struggled from deep this season and has been nothing more than a streaky shooter that has been cold more than hot this season. He has shown the ability to score in bunches and has five games scoring more than 24 points, which have all been Nugget wins. He is currently shooting under 30% from three and the Nuggets need him to turn that around if they hope to make noise come playoff time.
Gary Harris is the more steady of the two and he has been quite consistent for the Nuggets this season. He has shot the three ball much more consistently, hovering around 40%. He has not had the scoring games that Murray has had this season and it is unclear if he can be that kind of scorer. If Harris could take it to the next level in terms of scoring it would be a big help to maintaining a winning record with their big guys out.
As the Nuggets prepare for this road trip, they are going to be without two of their best players. They have capable players to fill those spots, but if they hope to come through this with a .500 record or better, they are going to need more consistent scoring from Murray and more scoring from Harris. The Nuggets had opportunities to pursue some big names this summer, but refused to part with their developing young guards. The play of Murray and Harris is going to be directly tied to whether or not the Nuggets win. If Murray and Harris can lead the Nuggets to a 4-2, 5-1, or 6-0 record, it would be huge for this Nuggets team moving forward. However, a bad losing streak during this trip could be damaging for the team’s psyche and hurt their chances of making the playoffs. The moral of this story is that injuries suck, but they happen and teams have to deal with them.
Stats courtesy of basketball-reference.com