Editor’s Note: This is the first of a four-part series looking back at the 2016-17 Nuggets season.
PART ONE: Sorting Things Out
Training camp took the Nuggets to Omaha, Neb., where the gym on the campus of Creighton University was huge and the distractions were little. Immediately, the energy that the team brought to the table was evident. Nuggets coach Michael Malone raved about what he saw from his players. Players raved about each other, emboldening them to double down on their media day prediction that they would make a playoff run. Practices were spirited and productive.
But then things started to chip away at original plans. The biggest curveball came when the Nuggets decided to try a two-big lineup with Jusuf Nurkić at center and Nikola Jokić at power forward. Then starting shooting guard Gary Harris went down in the first preseason game with a right groin strain. He missed the rest of camp, the preseason and the first four regular season games. The Nuggets were forced to adjust. In the third game of the regular season, Harris’ replacement, Will Barton, went down with a sprained ankle. He missed nine games in the next 15 days. Harris returned and played in five games… and then was lost again to a foot injury. In all, the third-year shooting guard missed 20 of the first 25 games of the season due to injuries.
Meanwhile, the Nuggets were constantly on the road. They were forced to sort out lineups on the fly with 15 of their first 25 games away from home. And though there were good moments, like Emmanuel Mudiay’s scorching shooting performance in Boston, where he scored 24 first quarter points on 9-of-10 shooting and finished with 30 in a victory, the Nuggets generally struggled out of the gate. They were 9-16 on Dec. 12 when Malone made arguably the most impactful decision of the season. Jokić had been moved to the bench after a slow start at power forward. On Dec. 15, Malone moved Jokić back into the starting lineup at center.
Things began turning around quickly.
The Nuggets won five of their next seven games as the chemistry among players started to grow, and coaches had more clarity as to which combinations of players worked best. Harris also returned to the lineup on Dec. 15. But the Nuggets were not necessarily out of the woods. After that stretch of winning, the team suffered its longest losing streak of the season – five straight games. Fatigued both mentally and physically, the Nuggets needed to hit the reset button.
That reset button became available to them in the most unlikely of places – London.
Next in the series: The London Game