SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Julian Strawther is back from his right knee injury, but he’s not necessarily back in the Denver Nuggets’ rotation.
The Nuggets plan to stick with their Jamal Murray-led second unit going forward, coach Michael Malone said Friday night — a lineup thats consists of Murray, Reggie Jackson, Christian Braun, Peyton Watson and DeAndre Jordan.
Strawther, who cracked Denver’s rotation as a rookie heat-check shooter earlier this season, was inactive for 13 consecutive games in January due to a right knee contusion and sprain. He was cleared to play last Friday but didn’t appear off the bench in a win against Portland that night. Strawther was then assigned to Denver’s G League affiliate, where he scored 21 points Wednesday in a win for the Grand Rapids Gold. He rejoined the Nuggets on Thursday and has dressed for both games of a road back-to-back.
On Friday night, he played his first NBA minutes in more than a month. Starters Michael Porter Jr. and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope both out for the second game of the back-to-back, throwing off the Nuggets’ rotations.
“Just gotta stay ready. He’s a rookie on a really good basketball team, and he was playing earlier in the year,” Malone said pregame Friday night. “He played well for us. But Jamal was not playing with that second unit, and he is now. It was good to see (Strawther) back on the court, being healthy, ready to go. And if we’re able to get him in any games, obviously it’s a bonus for him. But right now, Reggie, Jamal, Christian, Peyton and D.J. — that’s our second unit. So for a guy like Julian, he’s just gotta stay ready and take advantage of any and all opportunities.”
Before Strawther’s injury, Malone was using an all-bench lineup as Denver’s second unit, alternating between Jordan and Zeke Nnaji at backup center. The Jordan variation of that second unit had a minus-7.4 net rating in 42 minutes together. The Nnaji variation is still the Nuggets’ third-most utilized five-man lineup this season. In 86 minutes, it has a minus-16.3 net rating.
Since Strawther’s injury, the version of the second unit in which Murray staggers has a minus-3 net rating in 72 minutes. Malone has increasingly relied on Jordan at the five to back up Nikola Jokic.
As the only starter staggering with that lineup, Murray has reacted impressively to double-teams and other coverages focused on containing him. He entered Friday night’s matchup at Sacramento with double-digit assists in his last three games.
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