No matter how stable or tall, pull out the wrong pieces, and everything falls down.

Your Denver Nuggets are trying to find ways to keep the tower upright with two of their three starters off the court (and possibly the most important two at that), with another starter recently returning with a balky back.

Teams across the sporting gamut have long embraced the philosophy of “next man up” as solution to team injury, and this Nuggets team often espouses its depth as a helper for situations just like these. But when you’re trying to keep the tower from falling, there are specific blocks you just can’t have come out out the stack.

In this case, Denver has lost their two best players to injury just as a structure seemed to be gelling with the team. Nikola Jokic could be back next week, but will probably come back to restricted minutes and at less than 100%. By way of example, Wilson Chandler has pressed himself back into service to help his team, and is visibly still battling his injury, even if he’s on the road to recovery.

Paul Millsap’s timeframe for return is further out, and a little more hazy. Paul’s injury came after an unnecessary hack from the Lakers Julius Randle ended up with Millsap with a torn ligament and out for a few months. Randle seems to have a knack for putting the hurt on the Nuggets of late… Just ask Jamal Murray…

Beyond Randle’s penchant for Nuggets abuse, Millsap is also a massive loss for a Nuggets team that seemed to finally be finding a defensive stance, and a steadily improving offense as well. The team had only started to find its way with the new look and feel required to work an All-Star into the mix when Millsap went down, and the season will be two-thirds done by the time they get to regroup.

Jokic may be an even tougher piece of the puzzle to replace, as evidenced by the struggles Mason Plumlee found when trying to step in for such a rarity. Kenneth Faried centers a small-ball squad, and though he’s a hell of a boost for Denver, he’s not the player that either of the guys he’s been asked to step in for represent.

Adding insult to injury, Faried and Will Barton have been the key pieces asked to step into additional minutes and a heavier rebounding and scoring load. Their absence from an already-streaky bench has depleted the reserves and their ability to hold down the fort when the bench is called into the game. Even with the professed depth, the strain on the system is evident in close home wins and large road losses.

There’s not another team in the league weeping for the Nuggets personnel losses, as every one of them has gone through similar trials at some point in their history, and this is a part of simply playing the game. But which team out there could weather the loss of their two best players and still perform at the level they had before the loss?

Heal soon, Nikola. Hope the time flies, Paul. This tower is looking pretty wobbly without two of it’s core pieces. Jenga!

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