As Will Barton finished up his warmups about an hour and a half before taking on the Indiana Pacers with the Denver Nuggets’ playoff hopes on the line, he was as loose and relaxed — while still remaining locked-in — as ever.

He finished up his pregame warmup routine with a few made free throws and a dunk before looking back to the court-side seats near center-court where I was sitting. Barton made eye contact, pointed at me as if to get my attention and proceeded to point repeatedly with both hands at the hardwood floor below him that is emboldened with the Rocky Mountains themselves before running back to the locker room to prepare for tip-off.

While no words were spoken, the message from Will was clear; the Denver Nuggets are not going anywhere just as the mighty Rocky Mountains have refused to move. Denver will be right here batting for playoff contention until they either clinch their first playoff berth since 2012-13, or are mathematically eliminated and fall short.

“I feel like everyone knows what’s at stake right now,” Barton told reporters in front of his locker after the Nuggets third-straight win; this time against Pacers. “Everyone wants to get into the playoffs on our team and we are coming out and being aggressive and we’re playing as hard as we can.”

Barton has embodied the toughness and aggression that the Nuggets need to play with for their last four games as they fight, scrape, and claw to make the playoffs. So much so that as Denver tipped off in a pivotal matchup with the Pacers, Barton managed to score the Nuggets’ first nine points of the game on his way to 26 points, 10 rebounds, and five assists. The Nuggets would not have secured a much-needed win over the Pacers without Barton’s production; especially considering that Gary Harris has missed nine games with a  strained/sprained ligament in his right knee.

“For me, I’m definitely trying to be one of those guys to set the tone,” Barton explained when asked about his mindset to finish out the regular season. “Be an enforcer; a leader. Whatever else the team needs me to do.”

The Nuggets, as a team, have asked Barton to fill quite a few different roles throughout the 2017-18 season. He has been a volume scorer off the bench, backup point guard, and the de facto playmaker with the starters as well as many more. Barton has even started as a point guard, shooting guard, and small forward so far this season.

But filling in for Harris, who was arguably the Nuggets’ most consistent contributor and best shooter, was his toughest challenge yet.

Harris being out was looked at as a near death sentence for a Nuggets’ squad that had fallen out of the playoff race and subsequently lost their leading scorer at the time. That was back on March 15th and since then, Barton is putting up averages of 17.7 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.1 steals and 0.9 blocks over 36.5 minutes per night. Not only is Barton stuffing the stat sheet, but he also has an efficient true shooting percentage of 56.6 percent and is only averaging 1.7 turnovers per game even with the ball in his hands so regularly.

Barton has been a steadying hand for a chaotic and insane finish to the 2017-18 NBA season, but more importantly, he has been the emotional leader for the young Nuggets’ roster.

“Everyone knows we want to make the playoffs, but we still have to be us,” Barton explained. “We can’t play tight. If we play tight it will show and we’ll lose, so we just need to go out there and play our best basketball and go out there and play free. Leave it all out on the line.”

The Nuggets play their best when they are loose, but with all the pressure that has — and will continue — to exist for the remainder of their season, how will Denver continue to stay relaxed? Well, the Nuggets are simply acting as if they have no pressure on them and so much of that bravado comes from the confidence of the one they call, “Thrill”.

“There is no point in playing with pressure. We have a good team. We have a good team,” Barton reiterated. “We all trust each other, and we all know that we have a lot of guys who can make plays, so there is no point in playing with pressure. We know we just gotta go get it.”

Barton’s calm, relaxed, and even-keeled demeanor has percolated throughout the rest of the roster. Even in the face of certain defeat, Barton stares back as if nothing is different or has changed. He understands where he trust needs to lie: with his teammates and in himself. So far, Barton’s loyalty and confidence are keeping the Nuggets alive and, for a man whose mantra is ‘Protect the Family’, it is hard to expect anything else from him.

Thanks to Barton’s emotional leadership and much-needed production that he has given to the Denver Nuggets’ family, Denver is still stubbornly holding to their playoff hopes with the same unwavering strength of the mountains that are silhouetted on the sidelines of the Pepsi Center court — the same strength that Barton plays with every single time he steps onto a basketball court.