Nuggets Hawks Basketball Jokic

Atlanta Hawks forward John Collins, left, goes in for a basket as Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, right, defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Zone defense has become a more common sight around the NBA, and it could become a more enticing option for the Denver Nuggets with the team struggling for depth at a couple of positions.

After returning from an adductor injury against Washington, shooting guard Gary Harris returned to the injury report and missed a 123-115 loss Sunday at Atlanta. PJ Dozier, a key reserve at the position, is working his way back from a hamstring injury, another ailment that requires careful rehabilitation.

“You have to be careful because the likelihood of you reinjuring that, or re-straining it, is very high if you come back too soon,” coach Michael Malone said. “I feel awful for Gary.”

The outlook at power forward is a bit more promising. JaMychal Green, another key reserve who moved into the starting lineup when Paul Millsap hurt his knee against the Lakers, entered Friday’s game at Cleveland questionable with a shoulder injury and left the game after 75 seconds, following an injury to the other shoulder.

“I don’t think it’s a long-term thing,” Malone said. “I’m hoping that maybe we can get him back sometime in the near future.”

Without Green or Millsap for a majority of Friday’s win at Cleveland, Malone said before Sunday’s game the Nuggets went zone on eight defensive possessions.

“When teams call a timeout, they’re drawing up an ATO (after timeout) play against man-to-man, sometimes we’ll go to a zone just to mess their play up,” Malone said. “And if we’re having a hard time guarding, containing or keeping them out of our paint, we’ll go to a zone. I thought it was OK.”

The Nuggets didn’t use a ton of zone in the loss to Atlanta even though Trae Young frequently beat his defender and either scored some of his 35 points or dished out one of his 15 assists. Clint Capela and John Collins finishing with 11 and 10 rebounds, respectively, likely made the decision more difficult. Atlanta finished with a 44-33 edge on the glass and 10 of those were offensive rebounds that were turned into 11 second-chance points.

“The biggest thing when you go zone, you have to rebound out of a zone. Now, you don’t have a man; you have an area. You have to find a guy in your area and keep them off the glass,” Malone said. “It’s something that, obviously, a lot of teams are using now, and it can be an effective weapon.”

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