MEMPHIS, TN - MARCH 2: Marc Gasol #33 of the Memphis Grizzlies handles the ball against Paul Millsap #4 of the Denver Nuggets on March 2, 2018 at FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee.
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Nuggets Notes: Surprise Move Puts Millsap Back in Starting Lineup

by Christopher Dempsey
Nuggets Insider
@chrisadempsey

MEMPHIS – In Nuggets’ coach Michael Malone’s mind, the decision to start Paul Millsap in just his second game back from injury after missing three months, was simple.

“He’s our starting power forward,” Malone said. “What the (heck) am I waiting for?”

And just like that, Millsap was back in as the starting power forward against the Memphis Grizzlies. Originally, Malone said he would ease Millsap back into the rotation and then the starting lineup. But after witnessing Millsap’s impact in the game against the Clippers on Tuesday night, Malone relented.

“After that Clippers game, going into (Friday night’s game) with 20 more games to go, what am I waiting for?” Malone said. “He looked good out there in the first game. His conditioning was definitely an issue, but I felt the longer I wait, it’s just going to create another adjustment period.”

So, Malone sped up the process. Millsap also played 27 minutes against Memphis, which was just a few more than the prescribed limitation of 18-24 minutes. Millsap played well in his time on the court, scoring 15 points on 5-of-10 shooting and adding seven rebounds and four steals.

With Millsap returning to the starting lineup, the chain reaction sent Will Barton back to a reserve role, which he accepted without issue.

“I’m proud of Will Barton because he had been starting for a very long time now,” Malone said. “I take him out of the lineup, I talk to him about it and he understands.

“He says ‘Coach I don’t care about starting. But I want to finish. Have me on the floor when the game is on the line.’ So, for Will Barton to handle the change in the lineup, come off the bench, go out there and play his game, and to score and to rebound…and to make key plays, and to do it so efficiently…you always like to see that. Will was huge for us tonight.

Barton put together another solid game with 24 points and six rebounds.

“I knew it was coming,” Barton said. “I respect coach for being a man about it and at least giving me the respect of pulling me in the office and saying, 'You've been playing well, we've been winning w/you starting, but Paul is our starting power forward.'

“I respect it, and it's the truth. He's our guy and he's got to get back acclimated for the team to try to become what we want in the future. So, it's all good."

Nuggets have team dinner: On Thursday night, the Nuggets gathered for a voluntary team dinner to get the road trip kicked off with some bonding time.

“We had a great turnout,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “Anytime you can spend time as a team off the court, in a non-basketball setting, is great. We had the Philadelphia-Cleveland game on TV. And I’m just happy no one threw any soup at me.”

Craig back to G-League: The Nuggets sent forward Torrey Craig back to the G-League in order to get him some playing time. He’d missed two games with a hamstring strain but hadn’t played in a game since prior to the All-Star break. He was also pushed further down in the rotation with Paul Millsap’s return.

“My stance was, one, we have to be conscious about the number of days he has left (with the Nuggets on his two-way contract),” Malone said. “But (Thursday’s practice) was the first competitive, live basketball he’s played since that game in Houston (in which he was injured), which was like three weeks ago I believe.

“I would not feel comfortable throwing a guy out there who has not played or in basketball shape because he hasn’t done anything for three weeks. So, it’s a combination of keeping track of his days and also, let him go down there, play and get back in basketball shape.”

Christopher Dempsey: christopher.dempsey@altitude.tv and @chrisadempsey on Twitter