|Nuggets forge ahead without Millsap, face Grizzlies next|
A road trip that began with such promise for the Denver Nuggets ended in a humbling loss to the Houston Rockets on Wednesday night.
The lasting impact of Denver's 30-point loss to Houston is how they played without power forward Paul Millsap. He has been a steadying, veteran influence in the first quarter of the season, but now it appears he will miss significant time with a left wrist injury.
The original diagnosis was a sprain, but Millsap was sent back to Denver ahead of the team and damage to the ligament was discovered. He will likely have surgery and could be out for three months.
Denver will carry on without Millsap when it hosts the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday night.
The Nuggets are determined to overcome the adversity.
"That injury is not going to define us or our season," coach Michael Malone told The Denver Post. "We're going to continue to prepare, to work, to fight and to compete. One man goes down, you have to have guys step up."
It didn't happen in Houston, which capped a quick 1-2 trip. With a day to recover, the Nuggets (10-8) have a chance to recalibrate before taking on Memphis.
Millsap probably wouldn't have made a difference in Houston, but with little margin for error in the competitive Western Conference, Denver has to adjust quickly to his absence.
Denver has plenty of frontcourt depth, but Millsap is considered a difference maker. His 15.3 points per game are second on the team, and he is also averaging 6.2 rebounds and 3.1 assists.
"I'm kind of sad, because he's a big part of our new thing with what we're trying to do," center Nikola Jokic told The Denver Post. "He's a big part of our future. He's a great player, an All-Star. We're going to miss him on the court. He's a go-to guy when we need a bucket."
Memphis (7-10) is coming off a heartbreaking setback at home to the Dallas Mavericks that extended its losing streak at six games. A banked-in 3-pointer at the buzzer by Harrison Barnes completed a Dallas rally from 18 down and left the Grizzlies searching for answers.
"When we get a lead, we need to keep a lead," forward JaMychal Green told The Commercial Appeal after the loss. "That's been our downfall this season. We get a lead and we just let teams come into the game. We have to learn how to build on top of that lead. They just got what they wanted in the third quarter. We just have to get focused and lock in."
Memphis had a positive development in the recent downslide. Forward Deyonta Davis, who has moved into the rotation off the bench because of a groin injury to Brandan Wright, has played well the last two games. He had 14 points and seven rebounds in 15 minutes against Dallas.
Friday's matchup won't be the biggest game on the NBA slate, but it could have significance later in the season. The Grizzlies are trying to remain a regular playoff participant and the Nuggets are trying to get back there for the first time in five years.
Both teams figure to be battling for one of the last seeds when April rolls around, so the head-to-head matchups carry meaning.
Friday's game is also a chance for Denver to hit the reset button after a strange three-game trip. Millsap was injured in the first game, a loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday night, the same night that Malone and Jokic were ejected.
Jokic's ejection was rescinded after a league review, but Malone, who stepped on the court and made contact with official Rodney Mott, was suspended for the Sacramento game on Monday.
Denver controlled that game and won easily. Now it has to find that same magic without Millsap.
"It (was) an emotional trip. You lose one of your best players for an extended period of time, and you're going home after a real tough loss," Malone told The Denver Post. "But we're going home together. We're going home united. And we're going home with a belief that we're heading in the right direction."