Happy and healthy, Harrington ready to roll for Nuggets
Denver power forward provides instant offense off bench
Among Al Harrington’s summer adventures, he tried to tackle a cheese-laden, six-patty hamburger in Las Vegas.
The fact that the Nuggets forward fell woefully short in the light-hearted challenge served as an illustration of his offseason discipline. Harrington’s focus was on getting in shape for his 14th NBA season and finding a measure of redemption during his second year in Denver.
After suffering a foot injury in the first preseason game of 2010-11, Harrington never found a comfort zone. His 10.5 scoring average was a 7.2-point drop from the previous season and his lowest average since 2000-01.
“There wasn’t one point in the season where I was healthy,” Harrington said. “My feet were bothering me. I dislocated my thumb on my shooting hand. I had a lot of issues last year. Happy to put that behind me, and I’m ready to let Nuggets fans see the real Al Harrington this year.”
Nuggets fans liked what they saw Monday in Denver’s season-opening blowout of the Dallas Mavericks. Harrington provided a spark with 18 points and five rebounds in 22 minutes off the bench during the 115-93 rout of the defending NBA champs.
“I think Al feels healthier,” Denver coach George Karl said. “He seems to have a better bounce. There’s no question last year he fought though a lot of nagging pain, which is not easy to do and I thought he still had a decent year. He came back in better shape at a better weight.”
Harrington said he weighs about the same as last season, but his body fat has dropped to about 8 percent through the addition of more muscle. Among other things, the leaner physique allows him to run the floor and move better defensively.
“The summer was huge for me just to rest my body, just to get myself healthy. If we started Oct. 1 like we were supposed to, I wouldn’t have been ready physically. The extra two months really got me ready.
“I’m a lot stronger. I’m more muscle. That’s the biggest thing. I can really go out there and play the way I want to play.”
Even before his big night in Dallas, his teammates took notice.
“He’s got a little bit of a six-pack,” point guard Ty Lawson said with a smile. “You see definition now, so he’s definitely back in shape.”
Harrington, Lawson and the Nuggets will be back on the Pepsi Center court for their home-opener Wednesday night against the Utah Jazz. Denver has posted a 133-31 home record (.811) since the start of the 2007-08 season, which ranks first in the NBA during that span. Karl has set a goal of 25 or 26 wins at Pepsi Center this season.
“The home court is even more important this year than in the past,” Karl said. “With only 33 home games, we’ve got to win 75 percent, 80 percent. The home court is where you don’t ever have a letdown. You always play hard here. If a team beats you, they’ve got to come in here and play really well to beat you.”
Based on Monday’s road performance, the Nuggets will be hard to beat in any locale. Karl was particularly pleased with the defensive performance after watching his team force 20 Dallas turnovers during the historic rout. The 22-point blowout represented Denver’s largest margin of victory in a road opener.
“The thing about the Dallas game that no one’s talking about is I thought our defense was pretty good the whole game,” Karl said.
Defense was an emphasis throughout training camp, and Denver’s tremendous depth will allow Karl to rotate fresh legs throughout the season. Playing a 9- or 10-man rotation, the Nuggets will continue to be aggressive at the defensive end and push the pace at every opportunity.
The style is perfectly suited for a young team incorporating some new faces on short notice.
“We’ve got a lot of unselfish guys,” shooting guard Arron Afflalo said. “When you have 10-12 professional players committed to winning, it becomes pretty easy to jell. We did a great job of that (against Dallas) and we should expect that for the remainder of the season.”