Nuggets giv­ing rookie duo big roles down the stretch

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Nick Kosmider

Ja­mal Mur­ray rose up and buried his sweet jump shot into the bot­tom of the net to open the fourth quar­ter Satur­day night, pulling the Nuggets to within four points of the Rock­ets.

Less than two min­utes later, the rookie guard had thrown two head-scratch­ing, off-tar­get passes that re­sulted in turnovers. The Rock­ets scored af­ter both, push­ing their lead back to seven points.

Mean­while, rookie for­ward Juan­cho Her­nan­gomez — start­ing for the sec­ond con­sec­u­tive game — had en­ergy on both ends of the floor Satur­day and scored 13 first-half points to help stake Denver to a 56-51 half­time lead.

But with 4:52 left in the game and the Nuggets hav­ing cut Houston’s lead to 95-93, Her­nan­gomez fouled Rock­ets star James Har­den on the arm as the heady guard hoisted a 3-point at­tempt. It was the sec­ond time in the game the rookie com­mit­ted the same foul on Har­den, whose abil­ity to draw those fouls is listed in bold on ev­ery op­po­nent’s scout­ing re­port.

The two rook­ies have had a big im­pact as the Nuggets chase a play­off berth. But their learn­ing curve will in­evitably have con­se­quences as the pres­sure mounts and games against qual­ity op­po­nents over Denver’s fi­nal 13 games take on added sig­nif­i­cance.

It’s a re­al­ity the Nuggets are will­ing to live with.

“That’s a very good (Houston) team over there and we have rook­ies playing mean­ing­ful min­utes in the fourth quar­ter and mak­ing mis­takes, which is what rook­ies do,” coach Michael Malone said af­ter the 109-105 loss to the Rock­ets. “They are go­ing to be bet­ter off for it, hope­fully next game and def­i­nitely in the future.”

In­juries have cre­ated more playing time for Her­nan­gomez, whom the Nuggets weren’t even plan­ning to use this sea­son un­til he im­pressed dur­ing pre­sea­son camp.

Mur­ray earned the backup point guard job over Em­manuel Mu­diay com­ing out of the all-star break and has pro­vided good scor­ing punch dur­ing Denver’s over­all strong play in the past month. Mur­ray’s con­fi­dence is such that he rarely has the look of a rookie, but costly turnovers like the ones Satur­day are a snap­shot of the on­the-job growth left to be made.

Even if the mis­takes make Malone cringe, the coach is tak­ing a long-lens view of the ex­pe­ri­ence his young play­ers are gain­ing in a play­off race, which for the Nuggets (33-36) con­tin­ues with a re­match against the Rock­ets in Houston on Mon­day night.

“That ex­pe­ri­ence for them to be in those sit­u­a­tions is so in­valu­able for their de­vel­op­ment,” Malone said. “Al­low­ing them to play through mis­takes is not al­ways easy, but in the long run — not just this year, but in the big pic­ture, which is what we al­ways think — it’s go­ing to be phe­nom­e­nal for these guys.”

John Leyba, The Denver Post

Nuggets guard Ja­mal Mur­ray drives on Dal­las Mav­er­icks guard Devin Harris this sea­son.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.