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Nuggets turn to Mozgov for size, spark in the middle

Denver coach Brian Shaw making change at center spot

Nuggets center Timofey Mozgov is averaging career-highs of 8.6 points and 5.8 rebounds.
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images

Seeking a more traditional big man in the middle, Nuggets coach Brian Shaw plans to start 7-foot-1 center Timofey Mozgov when Denver plays the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday night at Pepsi Center.

J.J. Hickson, a natural power forward who has started 52 of 55 games, will come off the bench.

“It was something I’ve been thinking about doing over the last couple of weeks,” Shaw said after practice Monday. “With some of these big centers we’ve been playing against, I like his size and his ability to protect the rim. It’s not an indictment on J.J.”

When Hickson signed with Denver as a free agent last July, he welcomed the opportunity to play power forward after playing out of position at center with the Trail Blazers last season.

That plan changed quickly when starting center JaVale McGee was sidelined by a stress fracture in his left tibia five games into the season. Hickson has done an admirable job, averaging 11.4 points and 9.2 rebounds, but he is often undersized defensively at center.

Hickson also has struggled to convert free throws. He is 3-for-16 over the past three games and is shooting .523 on the season.

“I feel like maybe it’s affected his confidence rolling to the basket aggressively and running the floor because maybe he doesn’t want to get fouled and go to the free throw line,” Shaw said.

“It’s not a permanent thing. Early in the season when Randy Foye was struggling, we took him out of the starting lineup for a few games and he got his confidence back and he’s played better ever since. J.J. can find himself in the same situation.”

The role will be nothing new for Mozgov, who has made 53 career starts with the Nuggets and New York Knicks, including three this season.

“It’s not new, but you’ve got to take it serious,” he said. “Most important is you get playing time, coach trusts in you, keeps you on the court. I’ve got to work harder and try to be smarter.”

After appearing in only 41 games in 2012-13, Mozgov is averaging career-highs of 8.6 points and 5.8 rebounds in 55 games. Jan Vesely will serve as the backup center, giving Denver size in the middle when he and Hickson come off the bench.