To preview the Mavericks-Nuggets game on Wednesday night, we've brought in Nate Timmons, part of the fine staff of writers who cover Denver exhaustively at the Denver Stiffs, for a little Q&A.
1) Give us a quick recap of the injury situation in Denver right now. How worried are you that it will ultimately end up costing the Nuggets a playoff spot?
A quick recap of the injuries in Denver? You mean a book?! Right now there are three Nuggets in the "walking wounded" department. Nene (calf strain and heel strain) has been in-and-out of the lineup all season and one can never know when he's going to play. Timofey Mozgov suffered a nasty left ankle sprain against the Lakers on Feb. 3rd and has missed five games and counting. And Danilo Gallinari will likely miss the rest of the month nursing his left ankle sprain (and bone chip) back to health.
Even with those three starters out, the Nuggets have enough depth to overcome their absence and get the job done ... like the Nuggets did against the Pacers on Feb. 11th. But the Nuggets also depend more on aging veterans Andre Miller and Al Harrington with the rash of injuries and wearing out old and young legs has to be a concern with this ridiculous schedule.
I don't think injuries will cost the Nuggets a playoff spot, but getting a top four seed is very key come post-season play and the Nuggets would be much better off with a home-court series in round one, although Denver has been great on the road, so far, this season posting a Western Conference second best 9-5 mark away from the Pepsi Center.
2) Denver has had a lot of roster turnover over the last year, how happy are you with the nucleus of Lawson, Afflalo, Gallinari and Nene going forward?
Love Gallinari aka Gallo, the guy has the ability to be a star on both ends of the floor. He has taken on tough defensive assignments all season (like guarding LeBron James and even Chris Paul) and can score 30+ on any given night. Right now though, Gallo can also turn in a 1-10 night and get his butt glued to the bench in crunch time.
Lawson, Afflalo, and Nene have all had their ups-and-downs with the Nuggets. Lawson needs to figure out how to have an impact on the game other than playing at a break-neck speed, Afflalo hasn't looked like the consistent player that Denver needs him to be, and Nene will forever be known by die-hard Nuggets fans as a guy who should put up bigger and better numbers on offense and in the rebounding department.
I know it looks like that is Denver's nucleus for the foreseeable future, but team Governor Josh Kroenke and general manager Masai Ujiri indicate that we are not looking at what they want their final product to be ... so I'm not sure if they see a deal to make the team better that they might not pull the trigger at either the trade deadline or perhaps in the off-season when more options are available to them. Do I think the current nucleus can compete for a title? Yes, so long as George Karl can be the first person to figure out how to turn up the pace of playoff games ... the Miami Heat try to do that as well ... almost defeated your Mavericks that way for the title last season.
3) What's the latest on the two Nuggets still playing in China, JR Smithand Wilson Chandler, and where do you think they will end up?
I keep seeing varying reports that J.R. Smith's team and Wilson Chandler's team are actually battling for the final playoff spot in their Chinese league. I'm not familiar or comfortable with any set information, but it's likely one of those guys' teams will miss the post-season and could be headed for the NBA well before this month is over. For the other guy ... it's looking like mid- to late-March.
If Chandler is not back before March 1st (the last day for restricted free agents to sign offer sheets with other teams) then he must either sign a one-year or multi-year deal with Denver or sit and wait and again be a restricted free agent after this season. Marc Spears reported that Chandler's agent said that Wilson will sign with the Nuggets when he is able to ... and that he's open to a long-term deal.
While I now expect Chandler back, I do not think Smith will be returning to Denver. Not enough minutes for him here. I think he will sign with either the Los Angeles Clippers, could have Chauncey Billups' starting gig, or the New York Knicks, maybe another bench role as their instant offense guy. Both guys have a ton of talent and they'll help out whatever team lands them when they return.
4) Jordan Hamilton, who had two pretty up and down years at Texas, hasn't gotten much run this season. What do people in Denver think of his NBA future?
Along with fellow rookies Kenneth Faried and Julyan Stone, Hamilton has been glued to Denver's bench as the team is just that deep. Now, Faried and Stone have seen some action lately, but Hamilton has only played in garbage time, thus far.
It's always tough to crack George Karl's rotation as a rookie, but even more so when Karl has a lot of options at your guard position. Miller, Lawson, Rudy Fernandez, Corey Brewer, and Arron Afflalo all come before Hamilton and so does Stone (who is a ruthless defender). When we have seen Hamilton we've seen some nerves, a little shooting range, and some nice rebounding. I recall from his pre-draft interviews that he became a good rebounder from his younger days playing center growing up. He'll need to do the little things in Denver before the coaching staff trusts him with bigger minutes and a larger role on the team.
Could Hamilton be getting burn with the Charlotte Bobcats and a lot of other teams? I think he could. There is a lot of positive talk about wanting to see Hamilton on Denver Stiffs and the fans are still very high on the talented rookie. Just a tough team to be drafted to this season.
5) What do you think the key to Wednesday's Mavs/Nuggets game will be?
This will be the third meeting between Denver and Dallas. The Nuggets play in Denver against the Phoenix Suns the night before Wednesday's game, so Karl must find a way to keep his team fresh. A blowout over the Suns would be preferred to get some guys some rest, but the key to beating Dallas is always the same for Denver. Run the Mavs to death, use your defense to turn Dallas into a jump shooting bunch (and contest those jumpers), and get Dirk Nowitzki out of his normal comfort spots.
For the Mavs ... they'll need to do what they did to the Nuggets in Denver on Feb. 8th. Turn Denver into a half-court team, don't turn the ball over, and hope the Nuggets three-point shots are not falling.