Strong play has Nuggets forward Faried in line for more action
Last March, Kenneth Faried enjoyed his coming out party with Morehead State during the NCAA Tournament at Pepsi Center.
A year later, Faried is once again gaining altitude in Denver.
With three double-doubles in his past six games, the Nuggets rookie is beginning to entrench himself into coach George Karl’s playing rotation. Even when starting power forward Nene returns from a strained calf, it could be difficult to keep The Manimal off the court.
“I think Kenneth’s done a great job,” Karl said Thursday. “Right now, I go into every game thinking 15 to 20 (minutes). But if he keeps playing like he’s playing, it might be 20 to 25. Right now, we’re trying to get him minutes because he’s earned it.”
During Wednesday night’s victory over the Portland Trail Blazers, Faried set the tone by scoring six of Denver’s first eight points. The Nuggets never trailed, and Faried finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds despite not playing in the final 16 minutes.
“My plan is to make people work hard and get tired and fatigued.” he said. “When my teammates do come in, they can pick up where I left off and finish (the other team) off.”
Because of his boundless energy, youthful enthusiasm and trademark athleticism, Faried has become a fan favorite in Denver. Those same traits also have prompted periodic comments from opposing players.
“They tell me, ‘Calm your little behind down,’ ” Faried said with a smile. “Other players say, ‘Yo, you keep playing like that, you’re going to have a long life in this league and you’re going to be an All-Star someday.’ ”
Faried, first among all NBA rookies with 6.3 rebounds per game, certainly is following the formula for stardom. In addition to his pure athleticism and easy connection with fans, he has a tremendous work ethic and high basketball IQ.
“It surprised me that he is as mentally in tune to the game,” Karl said. “He doesn’t make a lot of rookie mistakes. We’ve always liked his athleticism and rebounding, but he’s definitely intrigued all of us.”
Faried is happy to have his coach’s attention, and he plans to do everything possible to keep it as the Nuggets play their final 30 games of the regular season.
“That’s all you want a coach to do – get faith in you,” he said. “If you play hard and bring energy and intensity to the team, you have nothing really to worry about.”
Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari (sprained ankle) and Nene were on the practice court Thursday, but they were limited to shooting and non-contract work. Karl does not expect them to play Friday at Houston, while reserve guard Rudy Fernandez (lower back strain) is a game-time decision.
Gallinari said he feels pretty good when he runs but is still having some pain when he changes directions and makes sharp cuts.
“Three days in a row now,” he said. “I was able to do some five-on-zero with the coaches. It was a good step for me.”
Before opening a nine-game homestand Monday, the Nuggets have two road games against playoff-caliber teams as they play Friday in Houston and Sunday in San Antonio.
The Rockets (21-15), who are two games ahead of Denver (19-17) in the Western Conference standings, beat the Nuggets at Pepsi Center on Feb. 6. In addition to losing Gallinari in that game, the Nuggets went 19-for-33 from the free-throw line.
“They’re a little bit like us,” Karl said. “They’ve got a lot of good players. But the keys are (point guard Kyle) Lowry and (forward Luis) Scola. We missed 14 free throws the last time, so we feel that we kind of gave them a game.”
The Spurs (24-11) are a week removed from winning in Denver. They led by as many as 28 points in the final game before the All-Star break, but Karl expects a better showing from his team Sunday.
“There was a psychological weakness to that game that I don’t like to always accept,” he said. “I’m going to stay positive. When we are healthy, we have proven we are a damn good basketball team. We have some big wins on the road. We just have to keep pushing towards getting healthy.”