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Roundtable: Isaiah Thomas’s first three games, Paul Millsap’s resurgence, and the biggest game of the year

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“I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!”

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Nuggets are 2-0 after the All-Star break thus far. What has been the biggest positive from these last two games?

Adam Mares: I don’t think the Nuggets played great in either game yet they walked away with two blowout wins. So the most encouraging thing has to be this team’s floor. The Nuggets run 11 deep and are two deep at every position. And along those lines, the Nuggets really can’t throw out a bad lineup right now. So much is made of what combinations work best and which ones hurt you but right now, Denver’s worst lineups are still pretty darn good.

Daniel Lewis: Paul Millsap has looked healthy and rested, which makes me think that once they secure a playoff spot, they need to ... what’s the LeBron term ... utilize load management. He’s definitely shown signs of his age during this season, but when he’s spry and energized, the team is able to take things to another level. The defense is better because he’s helping with rotations, and he can actually dunk in traffic. The team has played well, even though they haven’t shot well. It’s a good sign for their upcoming tough stretch.

Mike Olson: Overall health for the team. Though Trey Lyles injury came just in time to make sure that the Nuggets have still not had their full complement of player on the floor, the injury bug appears to be off biting other teams at this point, and it gives Denver just enough time over the last 23 games to find combinations and rotations that will carry them into the playoffs. If Denver’s health holds, they will absolutely be one of the league’s deepest squads come playoff time, and that could make a huge difference in closely fought games.

Gordon Gross: Workmanlike blowouts, I guess? Denver hasn’t had its A game. It hasn’t always looked pretty. Turnovers and clanked shots and misses on easy defensive calls. And none of it has mattered as Denver ground both opponents into dust fairly convincingly despite basic errors. This team is not firing on all cylinders - still - but remains a handful. C+ blowouts aren’t aesthetically pleasing, but they are portentous - hopefully in a good way.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Isaiah Thomas has played just 53 minutes with the Nuggets but seems to be carving out a bench role. What does this change for Denver going forward?

Mares: So far the biggest change is that Denver plays smaller, more frequently. The Nuggets play with three guards on the court for a majority of their minutes. Even the starting lineup features a player in Will Barton who is more of a shooting guard than a small forward. I think this is a good thing for the Nuggets. They will be vulnerable to large, scoring wings but that was already the case before IT joined the lineup. Now, Denver is just more dangerous offensively for all 48 minutes of every game.

Lewis: He’s been great on his own. At a minimum, it gives the Nuggets another opportunity to see how Monte Morris plays with another ballhandler in the backcourt. When he’s on the court, the offense is going to be scoring points. The Nuggets should be trying to build confidence that Thomas is a player that can get them points in the postseason while the rest of the players can focus more on the defensive end, especially with bench units. Most teams in the playoffs have to cut their rotation down because their bench players stink. If the Nuggets can roll out nine players, and they’re all good, that can be an incredibly useful weapon in Michael Malone’s bag.

Olson: More firepower. While Mike Malone may have to shuffle more minutes in the backcourt, or run more three-guard sets, he now has the luxury of going with who is hottest amongst six stellar guards. As long as they can all take the minutes adjustments in stride, it should be a boon for the team. Monte Morris said it well when IT was coming back pre-All-Star break. As long as everyone is focused on winning, the rest should work itself out. To his credit, Thomas has been saying and doing all of the right things all of this season, and his addition seems very welcomed by his backcourt mates.

Gross: Having more microwave options off the bench is good. Having another guy who has been there and done that in the playoffs is also good. I assume it makes Denver’s reserve lineup smaller by default, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. More guys putting in more buckets applies the pressure on the other squad to keep up, and 48 minutes of pressure does fun things to the opposition.

Poll

What grade would you give Isaiah Thomas through his first 3 games with the Nuggets?

This poll is closed

  • 23%
    A
    (163 votes)
  • 63%
    B
    (450 votes)
  • 12%
    C
    (87 votes)
  • 0%
    D
    (5 votes)
  • 0%
    F
    (3 votes)
708 votes total Vote Now

In ten words or less, describe your emotional reaction to Mason Plumlee’s latest three point shot?

Mares: The Nuggets are making us believe the impossible is possible.

Lewis: I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!

Olson: No, no, no, noooo... HEEYYYYYYYYYYY!!!!

Gross: Oh come on he did not... HE DID!

Paul Millsap has been crucial for Denver during the last few games. What has contributed to his great play of late?

Mares: It’s probably a combination of a lot of things. First of all, Millsap hasn’t been healthy for a majority of his two seasons in Denver. When he has been healthy, he’s been very good. Over the last few games he’s looks as fresh and as close to 100% as we’ve seen from him in a Nuggets uniform. But I think a sneaky part of why he’s played so well is that he has played more of his minutes without Nikola Jokic and with a pair (or trio) of guards who can space the floor and deliver the ball to him on the roll or in the post. On the season, Millsap averages about 4.1 minutes per game without Jokic. Over the last three games, Millsap has averaged 11 minutes per game without him. Those minutes allow Millsap to shine offensively in ways he willfully sacrifices whenever he shares the court with Joker.

Lewis: In my opinion, it’s the load management aka rest from the All-Star break. If Lyles and Juancho weren’t having terrible seasons, I’d say that the Nuggets should explore only playing Millsap every other night the rest of the season. I’ve already said I think they should rest him down the stretch. I don’t think getting Millsap rest is so important to break Michael Porter Jr.’s redshirt, but I’d be willing to see Vanderbilt get extra minutes in April.

Olson: Health and timing. Daniel’s dead on above. We’ll need this version of Millsap through the playoff so badly, it would be wise to not spend all of this windfall in the last quarter of the regular season. Paul is also a veteran who has seen this part of the grind close-up more frequently than anyone else on the Nuggets roster, and has spoken to the need for this to be the time of year for these types of physical and mental expenditures. You can see he’s feeling healthy AND in rhythm for the first time since last season’s injury, and I’m excited to see the PFM that had Nuggets fans so hyped when the signing went down.

Gross: Rest is a wonderful thing, especially as we age and recover from our injuries. Keeping Millsap well-rested is important. Allowing him to demolish reserves is also an under-rated part of this. A rested and furious Millsap for 25-30 minutes a game is ideal.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how important is tomorrow’s contest versus the Oklahoma City Thunder?

Mares: I think it’s somewhere around an 8. It isn’t the end of the world if Denver loses, even if they get blown out. But if Denver manages to win, their odds of earning a top-2 seed and home court throughout the first two rounds of the playoffs would shoot up somewhere around 80-90%. And if Denver manages to not just win but win big, then they’d send a message to the league that they aren’t just a cute sideshow but are instead the undisputed second best team in the Western Conference (and rising).

Lewis: Very important! Didn’t anyone teach you that if you’re not first, you’re last? Winning is all that matters, especially when it comes to division rivals. The Nuggets have a great division record, and finishing the season out with a couple series wins will really help them avoid the Jazz or Rockets in the first round of the playoffs.

Olson: Probably a 7. It feels hugely important, both in terms of standing and psychology, as much as anything. If they lose, will they still be in second place in the West? Sure. But that’s less important than the mental edge they currently have with OKC in the spate of recent wins against them, and every last game is going to count in the standings by season’s end. A win now is a statement about where this team plans to land itself in the mix at season’s end, and against a red-hot Paul George would make it all the sweeter.

Gross: They’re all important down the stretch. It feels like nothing but important games until the playoffs are over (speaking of pressure). I’ll go with Mike, it feels like about a 7. It’s not crushing if they lose, but it would be another feather in the cap - and in the record books - if they win.

Poll

On a scale of 1-10, how important is tomorrow’s game against the Thunder?

This poll is closed

  • 1%
    1
    (8 votes)
  • 1%
    2
    (6 votes)
  • 1%
    3
    (6 votes)
  • 0%
    4
    (0 votes)
  • 3%
    5
    (21 votes)
  • 8%
    6
    (45 votes)
  • 21%
    7
    (115 votes)
  • 37%
    8
    (203 votes)
  • 16%
    9
    (89 votes)
  • 9%
    10
    (53 votes)
546 votes total Vote Now