Which player will have to sacrifice most now that the Denver Nuggets have more healthy bodies than at any point this season?

Adam Mares: Juancho Hernangomez has already been cut from the rotation and Trey Lyles is probably due to see a huge reduction in his minutes so I won’t count either of them. Instead, Malik Beasley is the guy who I think will have the biggest adjustment to make. He has averaged roughly 10 more minutes per game since Gary Harris first got injured in early December. The Nuggets have barely played with Beasley, Harris, and Will Barton in the lineup and have players like Monte Morris, Isaiah Thomas, and Torrey Craig all likely to get minutes in the rotation. So Beasley will likely see a reduction in minutes and be asked to play more minutes at small forward. That’s a big sacrifice for a guy who has played as well as he has this season.

Gordon Gross: Adam said Beasley thanks to the return of Harris and the appearance of Isaiah Thomas, but I’m actually going to go the other way and say Gary Harris. They can frame it as workload management for his health, but as our own Ryan Blackburn pointed out earlier today the Nuggets have two players in the top eight of the NBA in eFG%: Monte Morris and Malik Beasley. It’s hard to cut back on guys who are playing that well. Both Harris and Thomas are coming off significant injuries and the backups have played so well that the injured starters will not have to play heavy minutes. Harris averaged 34+ mpg last year and 31+ as a starter this year even coming out early with several injuries. I think he’s going to get 25 or so the rest of the year to try to keep him healthy for the playoffs.

Zach Mikash: I think it’s going to be Monte Morris. The main change is Isaiah Thomas is healthy which creates a minutes crunch in the back court. Morris has proven to be far more than a third point guard so coach Malone is going to have to find minutes for him, but it’s counter productive to play Thomas or Morris as an off ball guard. Both of those guys are at their best when the ball is in their hands making them both ideal point guards. There’s only so many of those minutes to go around and Morris has been getting about 99% of them thus far, that has to change if Thomas is going to play.

Jeremy Poley: The injustice strikes Monte Morris more than anyone from here on out. It’s not a real award, but he would be in the running for the best backup point guard in the NBA. That’s something that should warrant 25+ minutes a game. And yet, not only am I assuming that Malone continues his habit of locking in a player like Murray’s time on the court, but now he’s already making time for his old buddy, Isaiah Thomas. As this team nears the playoffs, IT’s experience and leadership only makes more sense to include him. And any minutes in a small-ball lineup will be fought with the likes of Beasley as well. There’s no lineup here where Monte wins.

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Which player will be the x-factor for the final 25 games of the regular season?

Mares: I think Jamal Murray is the easy answer here. Murray played the best basketball of his career from December 5th (Harris’s injury) until January 19th (Murray’s injury) and helped carry the Nuggets to an improbable 15-7 record. The chemistry he built with Jokic during that stretch felt like a turning point for the team’s short- and long-term trajectory. If he can return to that level of play, Denver has a real chance at finishing with the 2nd best record in the Western Conference and making noise in the playoffs. If he can’t, then Denver will have a strange dynamic with two solid (or better) backup point guards who might deserve an uncomfortable amount of his minutes.

Gross: Michael Porter Jr? No, I’d have to say Isaiah Thomas. Murray has had stretches of brilliance and some areas of struggle this year. Both Murray and Harris have struggled through injuries this year, and Will Barton still isn’t back to full strength. Isaiah Thomas is another elite scorer, someone who can break down a defense and cause its collapse. How he fits in – whether he dominates the ball or can work off of Jokic, whether his scoring touch is back after this much time off, whether his on-court leadership can help Denver eke out close games against tough opponents down the stretch – will go a long way to determining Denver’s playoff position and opponent.

Mikash: I like Will Barton here. Denver played without him for the first half of the season but he started to knock the rust off right before the All Star break. The added time off should help to make sure he’s ready to go for the stretch run. You have to wonder if Harris is ever going to be 100% this season which means there’s a big need for off ball scoring from the wings to fill, Barton’s got to be the first choice.

Poley: Mathematically it has to be Barton, right? No one is going to get more minutes to make that x-factor effect than our default SF. Barton comes into this season already touting the quality of being an x-factor, someone that may not bring consistency but can swing a game on any random evening. Well, now he’s going to be playing 30+ minutes a game with no competition in sight behind him to impact his minutes other than the occasional 3-guard lineup.

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What one thing will have to happen for the team to hit the ground running out of the all-star break?

Mares: Defend is the obvious (and probably right) answer but I’m a big believer that the team’s offense sparks their defense, especially with regards to transition defense. Denver is an elite team in half court offense but they have a tendency to get sped up offensively in transition. If Denver can do a better job of picking their spots on the fast break, then I think their offense will hum and their transition defense (and therefore, their overall defense) will improve quite a bit.

Gross: I’m gonna say hitting the three point shot. Denver’s next three opponents are all top-10 in opponent three-point percentage, and the fourth (the Utah Jazz) allow the second-fewest number of three point attempts in the NBA. If they want to avoid grinding out games inside, it would help Denver to stay hot from deep – another reason to keep Malik Threesley in the lineup.

Mikash: Come back ready. There are a precious 25 games left in the season and the top seed in the west is still within reach, however the potential to tumble in the standings is still there as well. This Nuggets team is in unknown territory. They’ve spent the past two seasons coming out of the break clinging to playoff position (which they ultimately lost). While falling out of the playoffs completely would take a ridiculous collapse, if Denver tries to rest on the laurels of their first fifty-seven games it could cost them dearly.

Poley: The blueprint already exists – the first 10 games of this season. It’s “defense”. That was based on a lineup with a healthy Paul Millsap swinging his weight around at PF and a healthy Harris joining a healthy Murray in enough effective rotations on the perimeter to contest opponents shots to an effective degree. That’s three guys whose health is the key to returning to a dominant, hit-the-ground-running team.

Make one bold prediction for the final 2 months of the season.

Mares: Nikola Jokic will double his triple double total on the season. He has 12 on the year and I think he has a great shot at grabbing another 12 over his final 25 games. With everyone healthy, Jokic will play a majority of his minutes with three elite threats around him in the back court and on the wing and when you give a high-level passer like Jokic that many options, he’s bound to snag a lot of assists.

Gross: Michael Porter Jr. will play. I said it.

Mikash: The Nuggets will be the number one seed in the Western Conference.

Poley: Murray leads the team in PPG. I don’t think many Nuggets fans would argue that Murray is not good at balancing passing and shooting at the same time. It’s hard for me to envision a lineup featuring a healthy Barton ready to shoulder the secondary playmaking duties that doesn’t at the same time feature a sharpshooting Murray. We’ll finally be able to see the natural scoring of Murray that we’ve been deprived of for most of the season.