The Denver Nuggets roster has been fully shattered due to injuries after just 19 games.
Jamal Murray, who tore his ACL in his left knee back on April 12, has obviously yet to see the court and there is no clear timetable when he will return. Murray’s absence was expected from the time his diagnosis become known, but Denver’s injury luck has only got worse this season.
To begin the season, only Murray and Vlatko Cancar, who had a left hip strain at the time, were on the injury report.
Now, just 38 days later, Denver is without Murray, Bones Hyland (right ankle sprain), PJ Dozier (left ACL tear), Michael Porter Jr. (low back pain) and Nikola Jokic (right wrist sprain) after getting Will Barton III (low back pain) and Zeke Nnaji (right ankle sprain) back from their own respective injuries.
To make matters worse, the Nuggets cannot expect to get even near fully healthy anytime soon.
Murray will continue to be out until he has fully recovered from his ACL tear and there is no indication when that will be.
Dozier will miss the rest of the season and potentially some of next season after tearing his ACL.
According Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN on Monday morning, Porter is set to have his third back surgery which puts his availability this season in doubt. To make matters worse, Mike Singer of the Denver Post reported last Sunday that Porter is dealing with a nerve issue in his back that could jeopardize the rest of his season which only further complicates the situation.
Jokic has missed Denver’s last four games with a right wrist sprain. He has looked good warming up before games, but despite being labeled as questionable to play prior to the Nuggets battling with the Milwaukee Bucks, Jokic instead was in a suit and turtleneck on the sidelines. He is officially listed as questionable once again prior to taking on the Miami Heat.
Hyland has missed Denver’s last two games due to an ankle sprain that put him in a walking boot for a period of time. He was most recently listed as questionable to play against the Heat on Monday night.
“The injuries are something you cannot control as we know and they have been devastating to start this season,” Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said. “Anytime you are already without Jamal (Murray) and then Michael (Porter Jr.) and then PJ (Dozier) – that is really so disappointing for PJ Dozier because of what he brings to our team – and then you have less severe (injuries) with Bones being out – our five-game home stand Bones was outstanding giving us that scoring off the bench – and we all know what Nikola brings to the table and more importantly how he makes all of his teammates better. ”
Without all five of Murray, Hyland, Dozier, Porter, and Jokic – five the Nuggets nine-best players – the Nuggets have played a total of 177 minutes. In that time, Denver has been outscored by 41 points and are posting -10.7 net rating due to their 117.1 defensive rating.
“Our margin of error right now maybe nonexistent. You have to play hard and you have to try to play as close to perfect as possible,” Malone said. “It is a tough scenario, but it is where we find ourselves. Embrace it and bring the best version of yourself to the table.”
This type of adversity is not new for the Nuggets. At different points of the playoffs last season, the Nuggets were without Murray, Dozier, Barton, and Monte Morris which left them to rely on Facundo Campazzo and Austin Rivers to pick up the slack at the guard position. Despite all of those injuries in the postseason, Denver managed to defeat the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round of the playoffs before losing to the Phoenix Suns in the second round.
“Anytime you face adversity – whether it is injuries, being down 3-1 in a playoff series, being undermanned; whatever it is – we really don’t spend talking about Nikola, Jamal, Michael, PJ, Bones and them being out,” Malone said. “We focus on who is available and what we have to do to go out there and give ourselves a chance.”
Most recently, the Nuggets have elected to start Jeff Green and JaMychal Green in their front court with regular starters Morris, Barton and Aaron Gordon rounding out the rest of the five-man unit. Off the bench, Malone has relied on both Facu Campazzo and Austin Rivers as their reserve guards. Nnaji and Cancar complete Malone’s current nine-man rotation.
“That is what happens when you have injuries,” Malone explained. “You are starting guys who are normally coming off the bench and you are playing guys who may not be rotation players, but now you are relying on them,” Malone explained. “That is our situation so we have to embrace it.”
Malone has made it clear he trusts that bench unit to find a way to produce despite all of the injuries. Campazzo and Rivers both stepped up in the playoffs last year which has provided Malone with a sense of comfortability with both of them on the floor and gives him faith that they will find a rhythm to help the Nuggets break their current six-game losing streak.
“With all those guys being out, I think Facu (Campazzo) has been really good as of late. I think Austin Rivers is playing his best brand of basketball on the season,” Malone stated. “We need those guys to be the engine that drives that second unit.
“They did it on the biggest stage. Austin came to us late and Facu was a rookie for us last year and both of them were impactful in that first round series win against Portland when we had our starting backcourt out and they got valuable minutes in the Phoenix series as well.”
In the playoffs last season, Campazzo played 27 minutes per game and averaged 9.3 points, three rebounds, and 4.1 assists per game while shooting 39.6 percent from 3-point range. He struggled to score from anywhere but 3-point range, but he gave Denver a boost at guard when they were decimated by injury. Rivers was able to produce 9.2 points, 1.7 rebounds, and 2.1 assists over 30.5 minutes per game alongside Campazzo while shooting 41.3 percent on 3-point attempts as well. The Nuggets will need that amount of production, if not even more, from them once again if they hope to start winning games, but it is not just Campazzo and Rivers who need to step up.
“We are going to need Facu (Campazzo) and Austin (Rivers), but everybody — healthy and unhealthy — to be in the fight, to support one another, and to bring some positivity and positive energy to this team, to the locker room, to the huddle because that is the only way we are going to get out of it,” Malone stated after losing to the Bucks for Denver’s sixth-straight loss.
So how do the Nuggets, injuries, funky lineups and all, pull themselves out of this six-game skid they are on?
“The only way we are going to end this losing streak is if we find a way to play some defense,” Malone said.
“I think our guys are playing hard – I do – and I know we are undermanned, but the reality is that in the last six games now I know for a fact that we are the 30th ranked defense in the NBA. That is a far cry from the defense we started the year playing.”
Despite Malone’s claims’s the Nuggets are actually the 29th-ranked defense over the last six games with an abysmal 121.4 defensive rating. That is a fatal blow to the Nuggets winning chances considering how much of a struggle scoring the basketball has been with all of their injuries.
“The way we are built, without Nikola, without Michael, without Jamal, without PJ and without Bones, we cannot outscore teams. We are not going to go into anyone’s building; especially on this upcoming seven-game road trip, we are not going to blow anybody out,” Malone explained. “We are just not built that way right now. What has to change is continue to play hard and compete and fight, but we have to get stops.”
“If we continue to be the 30th ranked defense, this losing streak could go for a really long time. I hope as we pack for this 14-day journey or odyssey – whatever you want to call it – that we pack some defense and that we understand that the only way we are getting out of this is not by outscoring anybody,” Malone stated when discussing the upcoming seven-game road trip. “It cannot be on the offensive end. It has to be on the defensive end.”