The Denver Nuggets got a break when they played the Los Angeles Lakers without LeBron James three weeks ago. They get another one when the Los Angeles Clippers come to town without Paul George.
George, one of the two big offseason acquisitions, stayed back in L.A. with a strained hamstring sustained in practice on Wednesday and will miss Sunday night’s game in Denver.
“It’s a mild hamstring injury, and he’ll be back,” coach Doc Rivers said Friday. “We’ll keep evaluating him, and he’ll be back soon, I think.”
The Clippers are bringing Kawhi Leonard, and he will be a handful for a Nuggets team coming off a stunning loss at home to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Leonard has sat out a few games with a sore knee but has been a force when he has been in the lineup. He scored 36 points and grabbed nine rebounds in a comeback win over Golden State on Friday. He has missed 10 games but is averaging 25.6 points in the 29 games he has played.
Leonard played just 60 games in the regular season with Toronto last season, sitting out for maintenance of injuries, and was fresh for a championship run. He and L.A. are taking a similar approach by resting him on the second night of back-to-back games.
“I’m feeling better,” Leonard said after Friday’s win. “I’m able to jump without it grabbing me too much. Hopefully, I just keep going uphill from here.”
Denver is being similarly cautious with power forward Paul Millsap, who sat out his second straight game with left knee soreness in the disappointing 111-103 loss to Cleveland on Saturday night.
Millsap has missed six games total this year, and while he is the team’s best low-post defender, the Nuggets’ deep roster has kept them near the top of the Western Conference.
It helps to have a player like center Nikola Jokic playing at a high level. Jokic scored a career-high 47 points in a win in Atlanta on Monday and then hit the game-winning shot in Dallas two nights later. He leads the team in points, rebounds and assists per game.
Sunday’s game will be the third time this season Denver has played home games on consecutive nights. It is also the first of three sets of back-to-backs this month for the Nuggets, who thrived in the second games last year, going 12-1.
This year they are 3-2 in those games.
“It’s part of it,” Denver coach Michael Malone said. “We’ve had stretches where we didn’t have any back-to-backs, like this 10-day road trip. That’s where you have to use your bench, use your depth, and not fall into using, ‘Well, we’re tired.’ It’s your approach. Last year we did a great job with that.”
The Nuggets didn’t take care of the front end of the back-to-back, losing to a team that entered with 11 wins. They trailed by as many as 17 late in the third quarter, rallied to take a one-point lead in the fourth but faltered down the stretch.
It’s the second time this season Denver has lost to a bottom-rung Eastern Conference team.
–Field Level Media