Nuggets will be without Harris for big game against Wizards
The Denver Nuggets are amid an arduous trek that could determine whether they make the playoffs.
The Nuggets will be forced to get a win without leading scorer Gary Harris on Friday night against the Washington Wizards in the fourth game of a seven-game trip.
Harris will miss his fourth straight game with a right knee sprain/strain after initially getting hurt in the fourth quarter last Thursday in a win over Detroit. He landed awkwardly when he was fouled on a dunk.
"As important as these games are, we're not gonna risk Gary Harris going out there and hurting himself further," Denver coach Mike Malone said. "We care about Gary Harris too much, and we know how important he is to our future."
Without Harris, who leads the team in scoring at 17.7 points per game, the Nuggets are 1-2 on the trip. They dropped a seven-point decision at Memphis on Saturday followed by a 149-141 double-overtime loss at Miami on Monday and a 135-102 win at Chicago on Wednesday.
"If Gary Harris plays in Memphis and Gary Harris plays in Miami, I think we start this road trip 2-0 and there's a much different vibe to what we're feeling right now," Malone told reporters.
Will Barton, who averages 15 points per game, will start for Harris. He experienced mixed results so far on the trip, shooting 3 of 12 in Memphis before getting 22 points on Monday and 16 on Wednesday.
Harris has yet to play since the trip began last Saturday with a loss in Memphis. He was injured in the fourth quarter on March 15 against the Detroit Pistons.
The Nuggets enjoyed one of their easier nights Wednesday, shooting 61 percent and leading by 46 at one point in a 135-102 win at Chicago.
Nikola Jokic didn't get a triple-double or a double-double but didn't need to as he finished with 21 points and seven rebounds. Paul Millsap led the Nuggets with 22 points in a game that felt like a home game because of the abundance of Serbian fans cheering for Jokic.
"Any time on the road you're able to build a 40-point lead, your guys are playing at a high level," Malone told reporters.
Speaking of high levels, Friday is the start where the degree of difficulty increases for the Nuggets. After visiting Washington, Denver faces Philadelphia on Monday, Toronto on Tuesday and Oklahoma City next Friday.
"On the road, just to play good, to be aggressive, to kind of have an easy win, I think that's important for us," Jokic told reporters. "Just to have a win."
Washington (40-31) likely is headed to the postseason. The Wizards are sixth with a 1 1/2-game lead on Miami and a three-game edge on Milwaukee.
The Wizards are 4-6 in their last 10 games since Feb. 27 after dropping a 98-90 decision at San Antonio on Wednesday.
"We've got to realize what's at stake," Wizards guard Bradley Beal told reporters. "If we keep going the way we're going, we're going to end up dropping. We might mess around and be eighth. So we've got to do whatever it takes to get a win."
The Wizards trailed by as many as 22 points and shot 42.2 percent. During the last 10 games, they are shooting 46.4 percent but allowing teams to hit 48.9 percent after permitting San Antonio to shoot 49.4 percent.
"Every time we have a chance to move up, we take two steps back," Beal said.
During this 10-game stretch, Washington has faced teams who would make the playoffs. The Wizards play five of their last 11 against teams in the top of the eight of their conference.
Washington's depth was tested since reserves Mike Scott and Jodie Meeks sat out Wednesday because of illness. Both players are expected to return Friday.
Washington has won three straight in the series for the first time since 2001 to 2003. Denver has won nine of its last 14 visits to Washington.
Updated March 22, 2018