Preseason debut represents step forward for Wilson Chandler

Denver Nuggets forward makes first appearance in six months
by Aaron Lopez

The stat line was irrelevant.

After playing in an NBA game for the first time in six months, Wilson Chandler was just happy to be back on the court.

The Denver Nuggets forward took another step in his return from hip surgery Wednesday night when he made his preseason debut against the Portland Trail Blazers. Chandler grabbed four rebounds but did not score in 12 minutes.

“It felt good in the sense that I’m feeling more comfortable,” he said before practice Friday. “But physically, I’ve got a long ways to go, so it’s still tough. You like to come back your first game and be 100 percent and have the rhythm. It’s a process.”

Chandler, acquired from the New York Knicks on Feb. 22, 2011, spent much of the 2011-12 season playing in China before re-signing with the Nuggets on March 18. He played eight games before having hip surgery on April 30.

Though some expected soreness remains in his hip, Chandler plans to play in two of Denver’s final three preseason games in preparation for the regular-season opener in Philadelphia on Oct. 31.

“I’ll just take these last few practices and couple of games and hopefully I can make some major progress,” he said.

When healthy, Chandler is an important member of Denver’s playing rotation. He can run the floor and stretch defenses with his three-point shooting, but his most valuable contribution might be his defense on the wing.

“I was happy (with Chandler against Portland) because I thought he defended,” Nuggets coach George Karl said. “No question, he’s going to be one of our better defenders. He hasn’t played since April, so his ability to find shots and make shots is going to be difficult.”

Chandler’s next opportunity will be Sunday when the Nuggets face the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Karl plans to rotate the next two games like a regular-season game, meaning starters such as Kenneth Faried, Danilo Gallinari, Andre Iguodala and Ty Lawson likely will play close to 30 minutes.

With season-opening game at Philadelphia just 12 days away, Karl is trying to figure out which combinations work best.

“We have some specialists on the bench,” Karl said. “I know fans don’t like it but we have too many guys, so some guys are going to have to be specialists and insurance policies. They all just have to be ready.”

As a side note, Karl reflected on watching his son Coby score 11 points and hand out five assists for the Trail Blazers in Portland’s 97-80 victory. Portland trailed by eight when Coby Karl entered the game and promptly went on a 15-4 run to take a three-point lead entering the second quarter.

“I actually felt uncomfortable because I wanted to cheer for him,” George Karl said. “I was proud of him. We weren’t playing well and that wouldn’t have been good coaching on my part. When you watch the film, I thought he won the game for them.”