Nuggets seek good health in advance of postseason

At least four Denver players expected to sit final game against Utah

Nuggets coach George Karl looked toward the ceiling Tuesday as he went through the checklist of players who might not play in the regular-season finale at Utah.

After naming a third of Denver’s 14-man roster, he smiled and said: “Am I missing anybody?”

With the fifth seed secure for the Western Conference playoffs, the Nuggets are focused on getting healthy for their first-round series that will start Saturday or Sunday against either the Oklahoma City Thunder or Dallas Mavericks.

Starting big men Nene (groin) and Kenyon Martin (rest), along with shooting guard Arron Afflalo (hamstring) and point guard Raymond Felton (rest) are not expected to play Wednesday at EnergySolutions Arena.

Forward Danilo Gallinari (ankle) will be a game-time decision, while there is a slim chance center Timofey Mozgov (ankle, knee) could be in uniform.

“If anybody wants to play, I’ll play ‘em,” Karl said. “But we’ll have enough guys to play.”

Resting players in advance of the postseason is a luxury that every NBA team would love to have. The most important thing is having a full complement of healthy players when the playoffs begin.

“We’re all optimistic everybody will be ready to play for the weekend,” Karl said. “That’s kind of the mentality and karma I’m going to bring to the praying this week.”

Forward Wilson Chandler has missed two games while resting his sore left ankle, but he likely will start against Utah, along with Ty Lawson, Gary Forbes, Al Harrington and Kosta Koufos. It will be the 19th starting lineup Karl has used this season.

Injuries have actually helped Karl avoid having a log-jam as he distributes minutes.

“We’ve pieced it together (all season),” he said. “Actually, if everybody would’ve been healthy, there’s too many guys. We’ve gotten around that by foul trouble or injuries. The nature of the game gave an opportunity to make everybody happy.”

That being said, Karl is looking forward to having a deep roster that will give him flexibility during the playoffs. He is considering starting Felton and Lawson together in the backcourt, and his substitution pattern will be based on who’s playing well on a given night.

“As soon as I find five guys I like, that’s who I’m going to rotate around,” Karl said. “I’m not going to do a lot of managing of egos in the playoffs. We have a very small window of mistakes.”

Considering that the Nuggets have been checking their egos at the locker room door since the All-Star break, Karl’s approach shouldn’t be a problem.

“It’s kind of tough when you have trades in the middle of the season, but guys jelled,” Felton said. “We did a great job staying together and playing together as a unit, with nobody really caring about who’s scoring or who’s taking shots.”

Felton got his first taste of the NBA postseason last year with the Charlotte Bobcats, but it was hardly memorable. The Bobcats were swept in the first round by Orlando. At least he got his feet wet; four of Felton’s teammates, Chandler, Forbes, Gallinari and Mozgov, have no playoff experience.

“We're going to have to grow up on the stage,” Karl said. “There are guys in that locker room who haven't won a playoff series. You win Game 1 and you think it's easy. It gets harder. You’re playing against a quality opponent, a quality coaching staff on the most intense stage of stress that you can ever be a part of. That’s why it’s so special. This is the best two months of basketball played every year – anywhere.

“I think mentally we’re ready. That’s probably more important than physical, in my mind. I think they’re respectfully confident. I think they’re committed. There’s a focus and an intensity to this team that’s probably as good as I remember.”


Aaron Lopez
Aaron J. Lopez is the primary writer for Nuggets.com, providing behind-the-scenes content, including feature stories and video for the site. Before joining the Nuggets in 2009, he spent 15 years covering Colorado sports for the Rocky Mountain News and the Associated Press, making him one of the longest-tenured sports writers in Denver. Aaron's full bio...

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