Denver Nuggets F Danilo Gallinari suffers left knee injury

MRI scheduled to determine extent of damage
by Aaron Lopez

It was a move Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari has made hundreds, if not thousands, of times in practice and in games.

Attacking the basket from the top of the key, he took two hard dribbles toward the middle of the lane and planted his left foot.

In a matter of seconds, Gallinari was on the floor in pain and Nuggets Nation was holding its collective breath.

Gallinari is scheduled for an MRI on Friday after leaving Thursday night’s game against the Dallas Mavericks late in the second quarter with a left knee injury.

“I’ve had some that look bad but turn out to be okay,” Nuggets coach George Karl said. “Nene a couple of years ago went down and everyone thought it was an ACL, but it was just a sprain.

“I can’t deny that (Gallinari) didn’t look good. I usually look at the players face, and he was scared. He obviously felt he hurt something.”

Gallinari, 24, is in the midst of his best NBA season, averaging 16.2 points and 5.2 rebounds per game – both career-highs. He also leads Denver with 135 3-pointers and 286 free throws.

“You never want to see anybody go down, especially a guy like Gallo who’s so important to us,” Nuggets forward Corey Brewer said. “It’s tough, but we have to fight through it.”

Brewer took Gallinari’s spot in the lineup to start the second half against Dallas and helped rally the Nuggets to a 95-94 victory. He scored 23 points and made several key plays in the game’s final minutes.

Denver extended its home winning streak to 19 games, but the celebration was tempered by the uncertainly about Gallinari’s injury.

“It’s just disappointing to see a fellow player go down. You don’t want to see that on either team,” Denver forward Kenneth Faried said. “We just tried to stay focused. Kudos to Corey Brewer. He stepped up tonight, but we expect that from our team. Guys go down, other guys step up.”

Gallinari joins starting point guard Ty Lawson (foot) and reserve guard Julyan Stone (knee) on the injury report as the Nuggets (52-24) battle for the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference playoffs.

With six games remaining, Denver leads the Memphis Grizzlies by a half-game and the Los Angeles Clippers by two games.

Losing Gallinari for an extended period of time would make things more difficult for the Nuggets heading into the postseason, but they remain one of the deepest teams in the NBA.

Wilson Chandler, a starter for most of his career, likely will step into the starting lineup, and Karl could turn to forward Anthony Randolph and/or second-year swingman Jordan Hamilton off the bench.

“It’s important for everyone to be mentally ready,” Nuggets guard/forward Andre Iguodala said. “You never know what can happen. Now it’s time for somebody to step up and see if they’ve been preparing themselves for any given situation.”

Rookie Evan Fournier has performed well while serving as the backup point guard in Lawson’s absence. Karl is counting on similar contributions from a young team that already has shown its resiliency throughout the season.

“We just got to figure things out and not feel sorry for ourselves,” Karl said. “We’re versatile, we’re deep and I’ve told all the guys at the end of the bench, you never know when the opportunity is going to come.”