NUGGETS

The Nuggets need to rest their starters more down the stretch

Mar 4, 2022, 12:12 PM
Nuggets bench...
(Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
(Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

Fans were aghast after the Nuggets seemingly inexcusable loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday night. How could a red-hot team on a six-game winning streak lose at home to one of the NBA’s bottom feeders when they were missing half of their roster? Because it’s the NBA, and it happens to every team.

I’m not here to make excuses for the Nuggets and brush it off, as it was clearly a game they should have won. But there are reasons why this regularly happens across the league; why some nights the most reliable of players and teams just don’t “have it.”

For the Nuggets, I’m going to chalk this one up to fatigue. And that’s why it’s time to start cutting back the starters’ minutes for the rest of the regular season.

Coming out of the All-Star break, Denver picked up where they left off and turned a three-game win streak into six with convincing victories over Sacramento (twice) and Portland. Winning games, even over bad teams, takes a lot of energy and effort. Even if you’re not taking part in the party scene, the rigorous schedule of attending All-Star weekend like Nikola Jokic and Bones Hyland did could also take weeks to recover from as anyone who’s ever run that gauntlet can attest. It’s the stretch run of the season, and Denver needs to refill the gas tank.

Jokic has continued to post numbers, but he hasn’t controlled the games like we’ve grown accustomed to seeing on a night-by-night basis. Some of that is because DeMarcus Cousins and the bench have played well enough that Jokic hasn’t had to rescue the team. The Oklahoma City game is a great example of the team having an off night and the Jokic one-man wrecking crew wasn’t there to save the day.

Will Barton is another player who could use a break. Coming out of the break, he played his best game of the season at Sacramento after having a week off. Since tying the franchise mark for career three-pointers, he’s zero for his last 14 and just three for his last 22 behind the arc.

The Nuggets can’t overthink giving that game away to Oklahoma City. But they can recognize what it did to their chances to move up in the Western Conference playoff race. Dallas and Utah have both been hot lately, and Denver has lost the season series tiebreaker to both of them. There’s an outside chance they could still pass Dallas for the fifth spot, but catching Utah for the Northwest Division and the fourth seed is not going to happen. That ship has sailed with Denver trailing by four games in the loss column.

The Nuggets play five games in the next seven days, including two back-to-backs. It doesn’t matter who the opponents are, that’s a tough hill to climb.

So the Nuggets need to ask themselves is it worth taxing Jokic, Barton, Aaron Gordon, Jeff Green and Monte Morris for the remaining 20 games if it’s not going to improve their position and will only tire them out for the playoffs? Is it worth pushing the starters past their limits, especially when the bench has been playing so well as of late?

Michael Malone might be able to answer a few of his remaining playoff rotation questions if he lets Cousins, Bryn Forbes, JaMychal Green and company play an extra three to five minutes every night. If they keep up their recent production, it won’t hurt the Nuggets chances to win any given game, and the extra rest will add up quickly for the starters leading into the playoffs.

Look for the bench to play a bigger role the rest of the regular season, starting tonight against Houston. And watch the starters reap the benefits of the extra rest in the first round of the playoffs.

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The Nuggets need to rest their starters more down the stretch