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No golf on game days: Devin Harris excited to be playing meaningful basketball in Denver

Harrison Wind Avatar
February 11, 2018

PHOENIX — After an emotional departure from Dallas — a city where Devin Harris spent the last four years and parts of nine of his 13 seasons in the NBA — the 6-foot-3 guard arrived at the Denver Nuggets’ team hotel Saturday with the three-team trade between the Mavericks, Knicks and Nuggets finally complete in time for the team’s morning walkthrough.

Assistant coaches Wes Unseld Jr. and Micah Nori gave Harris a crash course on Denver’s offensive and defensive principles, terminology and play calls, hoping to bring the 34-year-old somewhat up to speed in time for Saturday night’s matchup against the Phoenix Suns.

“He’s going to play,” Malone said while noting just how many minutes Harris will see depends on how the game unfolds. “He didn’t come here to sit on the bench and watch somebody else play.”

Harris will fill Denver’s void at backup point guard after the team traded Emmanuel Mudiay to New York at Thursday’s deadline. He’s experienced and will bring a steady hand to a volatile Nuggets’ bench unit.

The ability to go from a situation in Dallas where the Mavericks are trending towards the lottery to Denver, where the Nuggets are in the thick of a playoff race, excited Harris.

“At this point in time in my career, playing meaningful basketball,” Harris said about why he wanted to come to Denver. “Obviously, the Mavs are headed towards the lottery. Heading to a team that’s going to the playoffs, I don’t want to be playing golf right now on game days.”

Nuggets players — especially Paul Millsap and Richard Jefferson, who have played with Harris before — are excited to have him for the stretch run. Harris, who will play both with and without starting point guard Jamal Murray, is also a new chess piece for Malone, who hasn’t had a point guard quite like him this season.

“I’m excited to have a guard that has that burst, the ability to blow by guys,” Malone said. “We haven’t had that. That’s no disrespect to anyone on our roster or that’s been on our roster. You can’t teach speed and quickness and Devin Harris has that.”

“I’m not as fast as I used to be,” Harris said when asked about Malone’s remarks. “I use my speed as I need it. It’s always in my back pocket.”

It will take a few games for Harris to get caught up on Denver’s curriculum, but the fact that the Nuggets’ play a free-flowing brand of basketball with few play calls will bode well for the veteran.

As a whole, the league is trending in that direction as well. A lot of teams run similar sets but with different wording and terminology.

“Today’s going to be a tough day,” Harris said. “A lot of stuff we do is similar, but like I said, it’s just different terminology. When I hear one thing I typically go to what I think, and it’s not always the same thing. We’ll try to keep it simple.”

Denver has won only seven road games this season, and the Nuggets haven’t won away from Pepsi Center since Dec. 23 when they upset Golden State. Harris’ 64 career playoff games and calming influence on the Nuggets’ young backcourt and core will be key over the final two months of the regular season, especially with how jumbled the bottom of the Western Conference playoff picture looks.

Heading into Saturday’s slate of games, the Nuggets are tied with the Clippers for the eighth seed. The Pelicans sit just a half-game back and seeds five through eight are separated by just one-and-a-half games.

“When you’re a team making a playoff push, every game is important and coming down to the end of the season, every game means something,” Harris said. “The more you can control your own destiny and not depend on other teams to lose, the better off you’ll be.”

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