NBA Basketball

Barnes, Kings visit Denver with All-Star break looming

The Denver Nuggets have persevered through the first 56 games this season, spending time atop the Western Conference despite numerous injuries to key rotation players.

Paul Millsap, Gary Harris, Will Barton and Jamal Murray have all missed chunks of time with injuries, yet the Nuggets (38-18) are in first place in the Northwest Division and off to their best start in their NBA history. Now, Denver is in position to come back stronger after the break and challenge Golden State, 2 1/2 games ahead entering Tuesday, for the top seed in the Western Conference.

First the Nuggets have to focus on Sacramento, which comes to town Wednesday night before the league takes off for its midseason festivities. It won't be an easy task. The Kings (30-26) have won five of their last six and are adjusting to new faces on their roster.

Sacramento acquired Harrison Barnes from Dallas, Alec Burks from Cleveland and Caleb Swanigan from Portland in three deals just before the trade deadline last week. Barnes has played 30 or more minutes in the Kings' two games since then, but Swanigan has yet to dress.

The trades -- which saw Sacramento deal Justin Jackson to Dallas, Iman Shumpert to Houston and Skal Labissiere to Portland -- haven't disrupted the locker room. But Barnes, who is making more than $24 million a year, has yet to put up significant numbers. Head coach Dave Joerger is trying to figure out how to integrate Barnes into the system while trying to lead Sacramento into the playoffs.

"I'm still learning what to do," Joerger told the Sacramento Bee. "How much I do I want to play Harrison at (small forward)? How much at (power forward)? And what do the matchups look like? And I need to get it done sooner than later because we're not going to find a rhythm if I don't figure it out quickly."

It's a tough adjustment to make during the season, and the Nuggets are in a similar position, albeit for different reasons. Denver didn't make any deals at the deadline, but it will add a player into the mix on Wednesday.

Guard Isaiah Thomas, who was signed in the offseason but has spent 10 1/2 months rehabbing from hip surgery, will make his Nuggets debut against the Kings, per ESPN. Thomas was initially expected to return after the All-Star break, but he ramped up his work in practice this week and was upgraded to questionable on Tuesday before Wednesday's report that he would play.

Harris is expected to come back after the break, giving head coach Michael Malone plenty of options to choose from down the stretch.

"It's going to be a great problem to have," Malone said after Denver's win over Miami on Monday night. "Our depth is something that we think we can wear teams down with, and we've shown that we're more than willing and capable of playing small at times. So, you can throw a small lineup out there.

"So, we'll figure it out. But let's let them get healthy first, and then we'll figure out what the best lineup is to win that game."

Malone has been able to figure out how to win without a lot of pieces. With the depth improving he will have more at his disposal for the stretch run.

--Field Level Media

Updated February 13, 2019

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