Big-man battle on the horizon for Denver Nuggets

After strong finish, Mozgov in line to push McGee for starting job in 2014-15
by Aaron Lopez

Six months before training camp, the position battles have already begun.

Nuggets coach Brian Shaw acknowledged Saturday that he is intrigued by the competition that figures to take place when Denver reconvenes with a healthy roster next fall.

He spoke specifically about Timofey Mozgov and JaVale McGee going head-to-head for the starting job at center.

McGee started the first five games of 2013-14 before being sidelined with a stress fracture in his left tibia. He eventually needed surgery and never returned to the lineup.

Mozgov, meanwhile, has been one of Denver’s most improved players while playing all 80 games this season. He followed up his 23-point, 29-rebound game against Golden State with another double-double (11 points, 10 rebounds) Saturday night against the Utah Jazz.

Over his past seven games, Mozgov is averaging 17.4 points and 9.6 rebounds.

“I told JaVale even before he had season-ending surgery, ‘Timo’s coming for you. It’s not a given that anything is going to be handed to you when you come back.’ ” Shaw said.

“Timo’s had his struggles, but he’s had his bright moments and he continues to work and continues to improve. JaVale is still a question mark. It’ll be a very interesting competition next season once everybody comes back healthy.”

McGee is one of three Denver rotation players who will miss at least 38 games due to injury this season. Forward Danilo Gallinari (knee) has not played all season and guard Nate Robinson appeared in 44 games before tearing his anterior cruciate ligament on Jan. 29. In addition, forward J.J. Hickson will end up missing the final 13 games with his own ACL tear.

Based on updates from Denver’s athletic training staff, Shaw said McGee could be ready to play by the beginning of training camp.

“I’m sure once he’s able to start doing things out there on the court, he’s going to be antsy to get out there and compete and play,” Shaw said. “Any competitor wants to get out there on the floor. I think it’s healthy for our team. It’ll make us a better and deeper team going into next season.”

Wilson Returns

Nuggets forward Wilson Chandler gave his teammates a pleasant surprise when he returned Saturday after missing 10 games with a groin strain.

Chandler had nine points, two rebounds, two assists, two steals and a blocked shot in 21 minutes.

“I thought he was pretty good,” Shaw said. “I can’t remember the last time I saw him in uniform and he hasn’t practiced at all. I figured he’d be winded, and he was. There were a few new plays that we had put in that he wasn’t familiar with, but he winged it and I thought he looked pretty good.”

The timing turned out to be perfect.

Nuggets forward Anthony Randolph left before the game to attend the birth of his child, and forward Darrell Arthur played just two minutes in the first quarter before heading to the locker room with a left knee strain/contusion.

Foye Draws Closer to Ellis

Ten days ago, Randy Foye looked like a longshot to chase down Dale Ellis in the Denver record book. With 19 3-pointers in the past five games, Foye suddenly has Ellis in his sights.

Foye hit three more 3s Saturday night, giving him 186 on the season. Ellis set the team’s single-season record with 192 in 1996-97.