NBA Re­port Ma­son-ry help­ing Nuggets build their playo≠ po­ten­tial

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Nick Kos­mider, The Den­ver Post

Ma­son Plum­lee heard the con­ver­sa­tion tak­ing place from the other side of the Nuggets’ locker room and headed to­ward his team­mate of three weeks, Gary Har­ris.

“Gary, your mom played at Pur­due?” Plum­lee asked. “Yep,” Har­ris said. “My mom played at Pur­due too,” Plumee re­sponded.

“Oh, re­ally?” Har­ris said, his eye­brows raised.

Plum­lee and the Nuggets are still in the get­ting-to-know-you stage as the big man en­ters his sec­ond month in Den­ver after his ac­qui­si­tion in a trade with Port­land. But with each day, each game, each party in this new­found re­la­tion­ship ap­pears to be get­ting more and more com­fort­able with the other.

Plum­lee played his first game with the Nuggets on Feb. 15. Since then, Den­ver was 8-5 en­ter­ing Satur­day’s home game against Hous­ton. The Nuggets grew their lead in the race for the eighth and fi­nal play­off berth in the West­ern Con­fer­ence by a game since Plum­lee’s ar­rival en­ter­ing play this week­end.

For all the talk of how “Nur­kic Fever” has taken over Port­land since the Nuggets and Trail Blaz­ers swapped big men in Fe­bru­ary, there is lit­tle doubt Plum­lee has made the Nuggets a bet­ter team. He has helped cover up some of the big­gest holes that threat­ened to de­rail the team’s play­off dreams. Namely, de­fense and bench productivity at the cen­ter spot.

Prior to Plum­lee’s ar­rival, the Nuggets ranked last in the 30-team NBA with a de­fen­sive rat­ing of 110.8 — a mea­sure of points yielded per 100 pos­ses­sions. Den­ver’s rat­ing in the 13 games Plum­lee has played: 108.4, which ranks 20th. The Nuggets de­sired to be more ag­gres­sive cover­ing pick-and-roll plays out of the break, and Plum­lee’s ver­sa­til­ity in be­ing able to stay with ball han­dlers when switches are made has paid div­i­dends.

Of­fen­sively, Plum­lee has earned rave re­views from team­mates for his will­ing­ness to set jaw-rat­tling screens, run to the rim, share the ball and do any­thing else the Nuggets need to keep their high-pow­ered at­tack run­ning smoothly.

“He just wants to win,” Nikola Jo­kic said after he and Plum­lee be­came the first Nuggets team­mates in eight sea­sons to post at least 10 points, 10 re­bounds, six as­sists and three blocks in the same game dur­ing Thurs­day’s win over the Clip­pers. “He wants to do the stuff that some other play­ers don’t want to do.”

That “stuff ” will help make Plum­lee, who is av­er­ag­ing 9.4 points, 7.4 re­bounds and 3.8 as­sists with the Nuggets, big money when he be­comes a re­stricted free agent in July. At that point his rookie con­tract ends. The Nuggets have made it clear they want their new cen­ter to be a part of the cul­ture they are build­ing.

The Nuggets aren’t the only ones en­joy­ing the fruits of their side of a rare trade that ap­pears to be spark­ing two teams. Fol­low­ing the vic­tory over the Clip­pers, Plum­lee mar­veled at how un­selfishly his new team plays on of­fense.

“I was telling Mike (Miller) on the bench that this is col­lec­tively the best pass­ing team I’ve played on,” Plum­lee said. “It’s ex­cit­ing. There is en­ergy in the ball. I feel like the way guys play on this team is con­ta­gious.”

Con­ta­gious like Plum Fever? Nick Kos­mider: 303-954-1516, nkos­mider@den­ver­ or @nick­kos­mider

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