The Denver Nuggets will aim to snap their three-game losing streak without their leading scorer. Gary Harris will miss Friday night’s home game against Memphis due to “a private family matter,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said following the team’s shootaround.
“All I’ll say on that is — obviously, our thoughts are with him and his family,” Malone said.
Harris is back home in Indiana, Malone said. The coach added he’s hopeful Harris can rejoin the Nuggets for Saturday’s game in San Antonio.
Harris is averaging 16.9 points, 2.8 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game while shooting 49.8 percent from the floor and 38.8 percent from 3-point range. That includes a blistering start to January, as he’s shooting 62.1 percent from the floor (46-of-74) and averaging 22.6 points over his past five games. He also ranks eighth in the NBA with 1.9 steals per game.
Without Harris, the Nuggets’ likely candidates to start at shooting guard are Will Barton and Torrey Craig. Malone did not say who would fill that role following Friday’s shootaround.
“The reality is this: Without Gary Harris, Will Barton’s got to step up and play,” Malone said.
Barton is shooting 35.4 percent (28-of-79) over his last six games, struggles Malone partially attributes to the mental demands of becoming Denver’s de facto backup point guard. Emmanuel Mudiay had been Jamal Murray’s backup at that spot, but has fallen out of the rotation over the past month. Mudiay ranks last among NBA point guards in defensive real plus-minus, which measures a player’s estimated on-court impact on his team’s defensive performance. That’s the area Malone said must improve in order for Mudiay — or any player who isn’t receiving regular playing time — to earn meaningful minutes again.
“Whoever we add to the rotation,” Malone said, “has to be somebody willing to come in and guard their position, have great game plan discipline and understand the importance of that end of the floor. Because that ignites our offense.”
No “respect” for Jokic? While assessing Nikola Jokic’s forgettable 4-for-21 shooting performance in Wednesday’s loss against Atlanta, Malone noted Jokic only shot two free throws and expressed frustration that contact the coach believes were fouls were not called.
Malone said Friday that the Nuggets staff is compiling a tape to send to the league office with examples of when they believe Jokic is getting “bumped the whole way up the floor.”
“We give him the ball in every area of the floor, and I think teams’ game plan is to be very physical with him,” Malone said. “You understand that and you accept that. But you just hope that, at some point, (because) he is one of the best young players in the NBA, that he starts getting the respect that he deserves.
“And when I say all this, I understand that the referees have a tough job.”
Malone added Jokic can still do a better job of keeping his emotions in check when a play he thinks is a foul isn’t called. The third-year big man does not shy away from arguing with officials after a shot or while getting back on defense.
“Obviously, that leads to him getting frustrated because it’s not getting called, and he kind of loses it a little bit,” Malone said “And that’s not good for anybody …
“He just has to stay mentally tough, handle that and not let that frustration take him out of his game. We need him to be locked in and focused just on playing and doing his job, and let me worry about the referees.”