Injury-riddled Spurs face retooled, optimistic Nuggets
Losing Paul Millsap for more than three months was tough on the Denver Nuggets. Mason Plumlee then went down, and Denver's frontcourt has been compromised for a couple of weeks.
The Nuggets have a reason to feel sorry for themselves, but heading into the last two games before the All-Star break, their injury issues are nothing compared to what San Antonio has gone through this season.
The Spurs played the defending champion Golden State Warriors on Saturday without Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker (back) and Dejounte Murray (ankle), and then forward LaMarcus Aldridge joined the list of wounded with his chronically sore knee. The team announced Monday that Aldridge wouldn't play in the Spurs' last two games before the break, so he sat out Monday night's 101-99 loss at Utah and will also sit at Denver on Tuesday night.
San Antonio (35-23) is barely holding onto the third seed in the Western Conference while trying to get healthy for the last 23 games of the regular season, and sitting Aldridge was a decision to keep him in the lineup going forward.
"He's just getting a treatment on his knee," coach Gregg Popovich told the San Antonio Express-News before Monday's game. "There's a certain amount of rest that has to happen. He's doing it now so he won't have to miss any games after the break.
"He can either miss games now or miss games later."
The silver lining for San Antonio is Parker and Murray played Monday, but the Spurs gave up an eight-point lead in the fourth quarter to lose for the fourth time in five games.
The Nuggets (30-26) won't miss facing Aldridge as they continue to battle for positioning in the lower half of the Western Conference playoff race. They won't have Plumlee (calf strain) or Millsap (left wrist surgery) but they will have new backup point guard Devin Harris.
Denver acquired the 34-year-old veteran in a three-team deal at Thursday's trade deadline to help stabilize the backcourt. They shipped out Emmanuel Mudiay, the seventh overall pick in the 2015 draft, to New York after Mudiay had fallen out of the rotation with the emergence of Jamal Murray.
Harris played in the Nuggets' 123-113 win at Phoenix on Saturday night, his first game with Denver since the trade.
"I didn't know what to expect but I was needed," Harris told reporters after scoring nine points and getting two steals in 22 minutes. "I just try to do the best I can with that -- just read the situation and try to make plays when I could."
With Harris now in the rotation it means Will Barton will not be used as much at the point guard position. Barton has been used at both guard positions and at small forward, but he will be able to concentrate on scoring off the bench instead of playmaking.
Harris went from a team in Dallas that is in rebuilding mode to one that boasts one of the younger rosters in the league -- which became a little older with him in the fold -- fighting for a playoff spot. He has plenty of experience, has been to the NBA Finals and can be a calming influence down the stretch.
"We have the resources," Harris told the Denver Post on Monday. "We have the talent to do so. Can we win enough games? We control our own destiny to make that playoff push."
Updated February 13, 2018