Nuggets’ focus on defense vs. Pacers

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Denver Nuggets guard Gary Harris has enjoyed some of his best games when he returns home to Indiana. Whether or not he gets a chance to have another good one in his home state is in doubt.

Harris, Denver’s starting shooting guard and best perimeter defender, has missed the last two games with a shin contusion and his status for Thursday night’s game at the Pacers has not been determined.

Denver could use him after getting routed in Houston on Tuesday night. The Nuggets allowed a season-high 130 points — 35from James Harden — with Harris on the sidelines. Denver’s defense has slipped over the last 10 games and struggled again in the fourth quarter when the Rockets scored 38 points.

“Our defense wasn’t there all night long,” Denver coach Michael Malone said. “The turnovers were too much. Give them credit, they’re a good team, but a really disappointing fourth quarter.”

Without Harris in the lineup Malone started Torrey Craig, who had fallen out of the rotation of late but fouled out in just 21 minutes. Malone could go back to starting rookie Michael Porter Jr., who made his first career start in a win over Sacramento on Sunday night and scored 19 points.

He came off the bench against Houston, scoring seven points in 11 minutes.

The Nuggets’ defense will be challenged by the balanced offense of the Pacers. Despite not having Victor Oladipo all season Indiana is 22-12 thanks to three players averaging more than 17 points. T.J. Warren (17.8), Malcom Brogdon (17.7) and Domantas Sabonis (17.5) have led the way for the Pacers, who sit second in the Central Division to the red-hot Milwaukee Bucks.

The Pacers are coming off a 115-97 win over Philadelphia on Tuesday night in Brogdon’s return from a hamstring injury that kept him out for three straight games. He lasted just one half due to a back injury but with Indiana ahead by 24 points, the move might have been precautionary.

“His back locked up on him in that first quarter,” Indiana coach Nate McMillan said after the game. “I think he fell and when he fell, he started feeling spasms.”

The Pacers’ focus Thursday will be to contain Denver center Nikola Jokic, who has 11 double-doubles in the last 14 games and seven triple-doubles this season. Jokic has been comparatively quiet the last two games, averaging 19 points and eight rebounds.

Denver did get forward Paul Millsap back from a left knee injury that kept him out of the previous two games. He had 13 points and nine rebounds in Tuesday’s game and will be challenged to help contain Sabonis, who is also averaging 13.3 rebounds, which is fifth in the NBA.

Millsap is the elder statesman on a young Nuggets roster and provides strong interior defense as well as strong low-post offense.

The Pacers also are looking forward to getting back Oladipo soon. The guard suffered a ruptured tendon in his right quad in January 2019 and could return later this month.

–Field Level Media

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