Denver Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said Monday his team must prepare to potentially play the postseason without some of its injured players.
"I'm not trying to sound coldblooded, but we can't wait for the guys that are injured," Malone told reporters. "The playoffs are not going to wait for us."
The Nuggets currently sit third in the Western Conference at 46-25, but there's still room for movement during the final days of the regular season, so their first-round opponent is unknown.
Denver has flown below the radar for most of the campaign since the West is loaded with star-studded rosters, led by the Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers and Houston Rockets.
The Nuggets have their own star duo in Murray and Nikola Jokic, but it's their depth when at full strength that makes them dangerous in the playoffs. It was on full display against the Lakers as the game came down to the wire despite Denver being without three key rotation members.
Michael Porter Jr. has led the charge during the resumed season at the Disney World complex in Orlando. He's averaged 23.8 points across six appearances in the bubble, including a 37-point outburst against the Oklahoma City Thunder last week.
Paul Millsap, Monte Morris and Torrey Craig are among the team's other secondary contributors. But the ability to go 10 or 11 deep when everybody is healthy helps Denver stand out, which is why the availability of Harris, Barton and Grant is crucial.
Malone told reporters he was pleased with the performance against the Lakers despite the loss:
"I couldn't be more proud of our group. They played extremely hard against the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. It was the fourth time we played them, and every game has been a battle down to the wire. For us to sit out starters the whole fourth quarter and to have the guys on the bench out there giving them all they could handle, it was a heartbreaker. It's always tough, but just so proud. I could not ask for a greater effort, greater focus, energy, whatever you want to call it."
The Nuggets only have two games remaining in the regular season, so time is running out for Harris and Barton, neither of whom has yet to play in the bubble, to get back on the floor before the playoffs.
Malone understands Denver will have to get ready for a tough first-round matchup, regardless of which team from the loaded West is the opponent, with or without those important role players.