Coming off back-to-back seven-game series', no team has expended more energy getting to the Conference Finals than the Denver Nuggets.
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More impressively, they've put themselves among the final four teams while juggling a handful of injuries, including missing starting guard Will Barton, who is yet to suit up in Orlando.
Barton has been sidelined for a month after leaving the bubble to continue rehab on his injured right knee and while there is 'no timetable' for his return as yet, according to Nuggets President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly, the team appreciates just how much they've missed him in their playoff run.
"We're not here without Will," Connelly said, per The Denver Post.
"He's such a huge part of our team. He's working his tail off to try to get right. We thought the resources that were available outside the bubble would be better suited to get him there. There's no timetable, but even though he's not here physically, he's certainly here in spirit."
Last week Yahoo Sports' Chris Haynes reported there was optimism Barton could return to the court soon and with the swingman rehabbing his knee in Miami and receiving daily coronavirus tests, he would only need to quarantine for four days if he were to return to the bubble.
My @NBAonTNT report on Denver Nuggets swingman Will Barton not ruling out a return this series while rehabbing in Miami and undergoing daily COVID-19 testing. pic.twitter.com/jdKScd0Sjr- Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes) September 8, 2020
Barton started each of the 58 games he's played in this season, averaging 15.1 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 3.7 assists on 45% shooting from the field and 37.5% from the 3-point line on five attempts per game.
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When you consider the Nuggets have reached this point without their third-leading scorer and second-leading rebounder behind Nikola Jokic, it makes their efforts in the bubble all the more impressive.
Through their two playoff series' so far, Jokic and Jamal Murray have been leading the Nuggets' offensively, averaging 52.5 points per game between them, with Jerami Grant and rookie Michael Porter Jr. both chipping in at times.
MPJ has emerged as their third-best offensive weapon, coming up with some big shots in his post-season debut, however, consistency has eluded him at times, along with his struggles on the defensive end - two key areas Barton would immediately help.
If Barton can return at some point during the Western Conference Finals, he might well be the x-factor for the Nuggets, while shouldering some of the offensive burden that currently falls on Jokic and Murray.
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