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A Nuggets backcourt worn thin by injuries might get some needed reinforcements soon.
Guards Will Barton (hamstring) and PJ Dozier (adductor) both participated in shooting warmups before Game 6 in the Blazers playoff series. Now, with the Suns awaiting in round two, Barton and Dozier are trending toward a possible return for Denver.
“PJ and Will, right now, were able to go through parts of practice today,” coach Michael Malone told reporters Saturday. “Will has been doing that. That was a first for PJ. So, there is definitely hope and optimism that they will be available at some point during the series. … I’m not ruling out Will Barton for Game 1. We’ll have to see how the next 48 hours go. But there is a chance that he could play, and maybe, there is a chance that PJ Dozier at some point in this series will be available as well.”
The Nuggets would certainly welcome their addition to the lineup, just in time to face another talented guard tandem. Devin Booker averaged 29.7 points in the Suns’ first-round victory against the Lakers as one of the league’s top scorers. Veteran point guard Chris Paul dished out 7.7 assists while playing through an aggravated shoulder injury.
“You can argue who has the greatest backcourt in the NBA right now,” Malone said. “Devin Booker and CP are definitely up there.”
Malone has a personal relationship with Paul. They spent the 2010-11 NBA season together in New Orleans. Malone was a Hornets assistant for Paul’s sixth year in the league.
“Chris is spectacular,” Malone said. “I’ve been able to coach some tremendous players in my career and am very fortunate. … Chris Paul is by far the greatest leader I’ve ever been around, and probably, the toughest competitor I’ve ever been around. That’s how he impacts every team and every locker room.”
That mutual respect is shared among Nuggets players. Nikola Jokic met Paul during a previous All-Star game together.
“I talked to him a little bit. He’s a really cool guy,” Jokic said. “He is really smart. He is really dedicated. He knows about basketball a lot. … It’s basically like one more coach on the floor. That helps them a lot, especially (since) they’re kind of young.”
Defending Phoenix’s potent backcourt will be imperative for Denver. Adding lengthy 6-foot-6 guards in Barton and Dozier to the lineup would undoubtedly help. They are capable scorers, too, with a combined average of 20.4 points during the regular season.
“If and when we get healthy … that will change the rotation, potentially,” Malone said. “While those guys are out, I think the group that we’ve been playing has played at a high level.”