The Denver Nuggets currently sit atop the Western Conference, but can they stay afloat with Gary Harris and Paul Millsap out?
Even after a loss to the Charlotte Hornets on Friday night, the Denver Nuggets (17-8) would be the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference if the playoffs started today. But a bigger loss occurred during the game, as forward Paul Millsap suffered a fractured right big toe.
Millsap will be re-evaluated once the team goes back home to Denver, but he is certainly facing a multi-week absence. Add that to guard Gary Harris, who was injured last Monday against the Toronto Raptors and expected to miss 3-4 weeks with a right hip strain, and the Nuggets are now without two of their top scorers for a while.
Denver has also only had Will Barton for two games thus far, as he deals with right hip and core muscle issues and is being evaluated on a week-by-week basis.
More specifically, can the Nuggets stay afloat without Harris and Millsap?
Millsap missed 44 games last year with a wrist injury. Trey Lyles only started two of those games, but he did see an uptick in playing time (24.6 minutes per game) and production (13.0 points and 6.0 rebounds per game) over that span. He is in line to start in Millsap’s place, with Mason Plumlee in line for more playing time.
In Harris’ place, Nuggets coach Mike Malone as suggested a game-by-game approach for who starts. Torrey Craig started the first two games after Harris was injured, but Malik Beasley has played more while scoring at least 15 points in three of the last five games. It seems to be a matter of time before Beasley takes the majority of the starts in Harris’ place, even with Craig starting again Saturday night against the Atlanta Hawks, but ultimately if he’s playing more that’s all that counts.
While he doesn’t seem to have a major injury and is starting against the Hawks, Jamal Murray is also banged up for the Nuggets.
After Saturday night against the Hawks, the Nuggets hit a tough stretch of the schedule. Their next five games are against teams with above .500 records (Memphis, Oklahoma City, Toronto, Dallas and the Los Angeles Clippers), before a home-and-home against the San Antonio Spurs. The first four of that stretch are at home though, where they are 9-3 this season.
The Nuggets are patently unlikely to keep the top seed in the West. But they have a deep roster, with Lyles and Beasley as the proverbial “next men up”, and if Barton can return soon a 50-plus win pace can be maintained.