Phase 2 of the Denver Nuggets’ season restart officially begins Saturday, and preparing for Phase 3 seems to be the team’s primary focus for the next couple of weeks.
After a 1-2 run in scrimmages, the Nuggets’ playoff position is back on the line starting with Saturday’s 11 a.m. tipoff against the Miami Heat.
The record over the eight seeding games isn’t all that important to coach Michael Malone, with the Nuggets already clinching a spot in the postseason thanks to their 43-22 start, the team still working on getting starters and key rotation players back to full health and no home-court advantage on the line..
“That group (starting five) was very comfortable with each other. They read each other on the floor. They knew how to play with and off of each other. We have had zero opportunity for that to happen to this point,” Malone said Thursday, noting the team’s limitations ahead of the restart. “Moving forward, I have to constantly remind myself, because it gets frustrating, … that August 17, Game 1 of the playoffs, is really what we’re building towards. Hopefully within these eight games, we’ll get back to getting that core group together, getting them minutes on the floor. ”
Malone said health , he said health, chemistry and pride in defensive play were top factors in determining which teams have success in the NBA’s Orlando bubble.
The coach was coy when discussing the overall health of the Nuggets, which had just one guard available through stretches of the scrimmage phase.
“Everybody was available to get on the bus and come to practice, and everybody’s available to get on the bus to go back to the hotel,” Malone said when asked about the status of starting wing Will Barton and others.
Who plays, how much they play and what the end result looks like seems to include a wide range of outcomes. The team announced Friday evening that Gary Harris and Barton will not play Saturday, while Jamal Murray is questionable with what's being called "hamstring tightness."
“Maybe we can go in and be the best team there. Maybe we can go out and be the worst team,” star Nikola Jokic said. “I really don’t know.”
For veteran Paul Millsap, the difference between success and failure the rest of the way could come down to desire.
“We want to be holding the trophy up at the end of the day, so we’re going to take these games serious and try to get better from them,” Millsap said.
“The team that wants to be here, I think that’s a big thing. Wanting to be here, wanting to win and not caring about the situation or the circumstances but planning to be here for the long haul, I think that’s the championship team.”
Like the Nuggets, the Heat have their playoff berth guaranteed by a 41-24 record that has Miami seeded fourth in the Eastern Conference heading into Saturday.
“It’s definitely a great first game to come out and play in the bubble against a team like that,” reserve P.J. Dozier said.