How Should the Denver Nuggets Manage Minutes in the Season's Final Weeks?
How should the Nuggets manage their minutes with Lawson out?
And when should Denver bring Lawson back with the Nuggets in a tight playoff race?
After the Nuggets dismantled the Utah Jazz Wednesday night, Denver sits in third place in the Western Conference standings. The Nuggets trail the Oklahoma City Thunder by three-and-a-half games for second, while the Los Angeles Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies are nipping at Denver's heels.
With only seven games left in the regular season, this is what head coach George Karl should do with his lineup to get ready for the playoffs.
Don't Push Ty Lawson Back Too Early
The Denver Nuggets have the best home record in the NBA at 33-3, so the need to finish with the best seed possible is substantial.
However, having Ty Lawson at 100 percent is more important. Along with his scoring and passing ability, Lawson's speed is critical in Denver's transition game.
No matter who Denver faces in the postseason, Lawson can't have a heel issue going against Tony Parker, Russell Westbrook or Chris Paul in a seven-game series.
The last thing the Nuggets need is the constant changing of a starting lineup if an injury keeps aggravating one of their star players.
In the six games Lawson has missed, Denver has won five of them. While Lawson is a crucial piece for the Nuggets going forward, Denver can win without him until the playoffs.
Keep Playing Andre Miller
Andre Miller is clearly the guy replacing Lawson at the starting point guard position.
In the five games that Lawson his missed the last two weeks, Miller has played 40, 34, 39, 27 and 27 minutes.
Miller only saw 27 minutes in each of the last two games because once Evan Fournier subbed in for him with only seconds remaining in the third quarter, the games were out of reach in the middle of the fourth and there was no reason to put Miller back in.
Miller is one of three Nuggets players who has seen the court in every game this season.
While he has 13 years of mileage on him and currently in a fast-paced offense, replacing Lawson is only temporary. Miller is averaging only 26 minutes per game and increasing that by at least 8.8 minutes to Lawson's 34.8 average for a couple weeks shouldn't be a concern.
Continue Letting Evan Fournier Do His Thing
Evan Fournier has shown some sparks sporadically throughout the season, but he is taking advantage of his minutes the last two games.
Against the Brooklyn Nets and Utah Jazz, Fournier has combined for 37 points on 13-of-18 shooting while going 9-of-9 from the free-throw line. He's also only turned the ball over once in 42 minutes of play while adding four rebounds and four assists.
Furthermore, Fournier is helping on the defensive end. He has contributed with five steals, which has helped Denver maintain its fastbreak without Lawson.
Once Lawson returns, Fournier will probably see his minutes be reduced.
However, if he continues to put up these numbers in the remaining regular season games, George Karl has a great option to turn to in the playoffs if his team needs a boost.
The Playing Time for Everyone Else Should Stay the Same
There's simply no need to change anything with the rest of the team while the Nuggets can still play for their playoff position.
Denver has won 17 of its last 19 and there haven't been any secrets. The Nuggets attack the basket no matter who is on the court.
Looking ahead, the San Antonio Spurs are the only opponent left on Denver's schedule that has clinched a playoff birth. The Nuggets also have matchups against the Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks (twice) and the Milwaukee Bucks as potential playoff teams.
Five of Denver's last seven games are at home as well.
It's going to be tough for the Nuggets to catch the Spurs with a five-game deficit in the standings, but with a somewhat easier schedule, the Nuggets have a legitimate shot at catching the Thunder.
If George Karl keeps the minutes the same, the Nuggets can make up the three-and-a-half games. If Denver and Oklahoma City finish with the same record, Denver will earn the No. 2 seed with a better head-to-head series record (Nuggets won the series 3-1).
Once Denver's Seeding Is Decided, Limit the Minutes of the Starters
With as close as the Western Conference race is, Denver may not know its playoff spot until after the 82nd game.
Although, if the Nuggets lock up a spot before then, they should take advantage and give their starters some rest.
Even though the Nuggets have a deep bench, they like to run. That extra energy will be needed in May and potentially June.
With the exception of Wilson Chandler and Ty Lawson, because of his recent injury, the rest of the Denver players in the rotation have played at least 70 games this season.
If Denver gets the opportunity to rest some of its players, it'll be time for Anthony Randolph, Jordan Hamilton, Timofey Mozgov and maybe even Quincy Miller to see some more playing time.
Having a game or two off is much deserved for the Nuggets roster. They are one of the most dangerous teams in the league and have an excellent chance to represent the West in the NBA Finals.