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Regular season game No. 26 | Denver Nuggets (9-16) vs Portland Trailblazers (13-14)
Pepsi Center, Denver, Colorado | 7:00 PM MST | TV: Altitude
The Denver Nuggets enter their third matchup with the Portland Trailblazers looking to start out a three-game homestand on a positive note. They have now lost six of their last eight games but will get the benefit of a full roster of players who are healthy for the first time since Michael Malone took over as head coach. With ta full roster to throw at the Trailblazers, new challenges will present themselves.
Here are a few observations from shootaround prior to the Nuggets contest with Portland.
Nuggets are finally 100 percent healthy
With Gary Harris returning from a right foot injury it will be the first time in recent memory there will be no inactive players on the injury list for the Nuggets. While it has been a long wait to see Denver at full health, it now opens up a new set of issues for Malone to navigate.
“Now the challenge is…there is only so many minutes to be had,” Malone said at shootaround Thursday. “So that is where some decisions will have to be made about who we are playing and who we are not playing and try to get, if we are healthy, a set rotation and see how that rotation does over maybe a five-game period”
Both Darrell Arthur and Wilson Chandler are probable for tonight’s game as well. So with 14 healthy players on the roster (Malik Beasley is currently in the D-League but still counts as a roster spot) Malone will be tasked with deciding who plays and who does not. Candidates to not play tonight are Kenneth Faried, Juancho Hernangomez, and Alonzo Gee.
Starting lineup changes
Gary Harris is expected to make his return to the rotation and Malone even went as far to say that if Harris is ready to play tonight that he would most likely slide back into the starting lineup, potentially alongside Nikola Jokic.
“If he is able to go, which all signs indicate the he is, there is a good chance he starts,” Malone said. “I don’t want him getting all loose and warmed up and then sit on the bench and getting tight again. If he is ready to play we’ll throw him out there. Harris is the starter on this team and was last year so might as well throw him out there.”
The Nuggets know that they desperately need to find a way to start games better which has led to Malone finding himself in “search mode,” trying to find a lineup combination that works.
“We are 6-3 when we win the first quarter this year and three and nine when we lose the first quarter so that is so important to us,” Malone said. “I think now that we are healthy and we can tinker with the lineup, get a set rotation, maybe now we can really see who are we. There has been glimpses of good and glimpses of bad but it would be great to have a consistent lineup to see who we are over a consistent period of time.”
Harris potentially returning to the starting lineup will be a big boost to the Nuggets’ comfort level. Harris led the team in starts last season with 72 and played a whopping 32.1 minutes per contest. Emmanuel Mudiay was visibly ecstatic about his backcourt partner returning to the lineup alongside him. The perimeter defense will immediately get a boost. Harris’s active hands and bulldog defensive mentality could significantly improve the starting five. Harris is excited and ready to get back.
“I am excited, man. It;s been tough sitting out those 20-plus games,” Harris said at shootaround. “I am just ready to get back out there. It’s been a little tough road but everything happens for a reason I’ll be fine and we’ll bounce back.”