Preseason projections put the Denver Nuggets in the pack of teams that would be fighting for one of the Western Conference’s final few playoff spots.
Mother Nature, the mythical force Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle often refers to when discussing injuries, had other things on her mind.
The Mavs don’t have time to feel sorry for the Nuggets, who have been hit as hard as any NBA team by the injury bug this season. But the visit to Denver for Wednesday’s game might at least remind the Mavs about how fortunate they’ve been this season.
Dallas’ starters have missed a total of only nine games due to injury or illness, not counting the night Dirk Nowitzki rested in Toronto as part of the Mavs’ preventative-maintenance program for their 35-year-old star. By comparison, projected Denver frontcourt starters Danilo Gallinari and JaVale McGee combined to play only five games before undergoing season-ending surgeries.
The Mavs’ bench was thinned out by injuries early in the season, with Devin Harris sitting out the first half of the season while rehabbing from summer toe surgery and Brandan Wright missing the first six weeks due to a fracture in his left shoulder. But the Mavs have had a remarkable run of good health since the season started, especially for a team with so many aging veterans.
We’ll pause to let Mavs fans knock on wood.
The Nuggets had hoped Gallinari, who tore his ACL against the Mavs late last season, would join them around midseason. But the unconventional “healing response” surgery he underwent during the offseason wasn’t effective, and the Italian small forward now hopes to be ready for training camp after reconstructive surgery in January. McGee had surgery to repair a broken tibia a couple of weeks into the season.
The Nuggets still had a slim chance to make the playoff before point guard Ty Lawson, their best player, suffered a fractured rib Feb. 8. Denver lost that game and eight of the next nine without Lawson to fall into guaranteed lottery land.
Lawson returned Monday night, putting up 31 points and 11 assists in a wild 132-128 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves. That’s another reason the Mavs can’t afford to feel sorry for Denver. With Lawson in the mix, the Nuggets are at least a threat to beat the Mavs, even if Denver’s chances to compete for a playoff spot have been damaged beyond repair.