Nuggets on the mend as first playoff game approaches
Afflalo among those ready to play against budding rival Oklahoma City
Arron Afflalo wasn’t necessarily trying to sneak out of the Pepsi Center on Thursday. His coach only made it seem that way.
“You’re not working out today, man?” Nuggets coach George Karl said playfully.
“Treatment,” Afflalo replied.
“Treatment? That’s all you’ve been doing for about a month”
“I’m playing Sunday,” Afflalo said with a smile before continuing down the hallway.
It was a declaration that Karl and the Nuggets welcomed after encountering numerous injuries in the season’s final few weeks, including a sprained ankle to starting point guard Ty Lawson in Wednesday’s regular-season finale.
Afflalo, Lawson, Nene and Timofey Mozgov are all officially listed as day-to-day in advance of Game 1 of Denver’s first-round playoff series Sunday against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Forward Danilo Gallinari, who missed the season’s final two games is listed as probable.
“I don’t talk about injuries during the playoffs,” Karl said. “You kind of know the beast during the regular season. If we can steal 15, 20 minutes of surprise by not talking about it, it has a value in a playoff series.”
Afflalo, who strained his left hamstring on March 5, missed 13 of Denver’s final 18 games. He aggravated the injury three times, including last week against the Golden State Warriors.
“If I would have just rested, obviously I would have been in a better position,” Afflalo said. “But I didn't, so you've got to live with it and move forward.”
The first-round schedule should benefit the Nuggets as they try to return to health. There are two days between Games 1, 2 and 3.
“I think the schedule’s helpful,” Karl said. “I don’t know if we’re going to be 100 percent injury-wise but I think all my guys will play on Sunday. But the value of every day, if we improve 10 percent every day, it’s going to be helpful.”
Karl remains undecided whether he will start Lawson and fellow point guard Raymond Felton together in the backcourt. Lawson has started all 25 games since the All-Star break, while Felton has come off the bench since being acquired on Feb. 22.
“I’m not going to show my hand,” Karl said. “There’s no question Raymond and Ty are going to play a lot of minutes together.”
DEFENDING DURANT: Denver’s three top priorities going into the series are NBA scoring leader Kevin Durant, All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook and talented sixth man James Harden.
Afflalo, Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari and Kenyon Martin will show Durant different looks defensively, while Felton has the size and strength to match up against Westbrook.
“It’s another challenge that myself and my teammates are going to be up for,” Martin said. “I think the key to guarding K.D. is trying to keep him off the free-throw line as much as possible and make him put the ball on the floor, which I don’t think he’s the comfortable doing.”
Durant averaged 31.5 points in four games against the Nuggets this season.
“You've got to be physical with him and try to make him work before he gets the ball because once he gets the ball, he's pretty good,” Gallinari said.
“You have a chance to play against the best scorer in the NBA, so I think that everybody would love to prove himself. I’d like to prove myself against him.”
BUDDING RIVALRY: The Nuggets and Thunder are young teams who play in the Northwest Division, so it’s only natural that their playoff matchup could serve as kindling for a long-term rivalry.
“That would be great. I like rivalries,” Karl said. “I think they're important to the game. I don't see anything wrong with the proximity of these two teams being in kind of the western side of the Midwest. A little bit of cowboy. We've got a much prettier state than they do.”
Nuggets center Nene and Oklahoma City center Kendrick Perkins tangled during two Thunder victories in the season’s final six games, and the Nuggets felt that OKC might have carried itself with an air of confidence bordering on cockiness. The first-round playoff matchup offers Denver an immediate chance at redemption.
“They did have somewhat of a swagger about their game a little bit,” Afflalo said. “Hopefully, we can put that somewhat to a stop.”
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Who’s playing good, who isn’t, baby. It’s pretty simple. I would recommend you don’t make mistakes. You can miss shots but don’t make mistakes.” – Karl on whether he will shorten his bench during the postseason.