Daily Camera (Boulder)

Gordon upgraded from out to available

- By Mike Singer msinger@denverpost.com

The Nuggets were never going to find their playoff stride until starting forward Aaron Gordon returned.

After initially being ruled out for Sunday’s game against the Clippers, Gordon was swiftly upgraded to available despite a left rib contusion that had given him problems for the last few weeks.

Asked about the upgrade prior to tipoff, Nuggets coach Michael Malone gasped sarcastica­lly. Gordon took part in the team’s oncourt walk-through on Sunday evening.

“It all comes down to, with that injury, his comfort level,” Malone said. Gordon, according to Malone, had been hit in the rib several times, which caused him significan­t pain.

Gordon wasn’t in Memphis on Saturday, marking his fifth consecutiv­e missed game. When asked after the game about a timeframe, Malone was less optimistic than he was a day later.

“Honestly, I have no idea (when he’ll return),” Malone said late Saturday night following their blowout loss to the Grizzlies. Gordon wasn’t on Denver’s two-game road trip to Cleveland and then to Memphis. Instead, he opted to stay back and rehab.

“If not (Sunday), hopefully (vs.) Houston, and we’ll just keep on giving him enough time to get back to where he’s comfortabl­e and confident to go out there and play and play effectivel­y,” Malone said.

Though it’s not a fracture, according to a league source, it’s been extremely troublesom­e nonetheles­s.

“Obviously, he’s a big part of what we’ve been able to do this year on both ends of the floor,” Malone said. “His ability to guard, his ability to rebound, and his ability to play with Nikola (Jokic), and the athleticis­m that he provides is something that is hard to replicate.”

Gordon last played on Feb. 9 at Orlando before resting throughout the All-star break and missing Denver’s next five games. In his absence, reserve forward Vlatko Cancar has earned the starts, and though he’s played fairly well, he doesn’t have nearly the burst or impact that Gordon’s had.

Offensivel­y, Gordon’s an integral part of Denver’s elite attack, and defensivel­y, he’s a strong, switchable piece that can guard the likes of players like Donovan Mitchell and Ja Morant, not to mention Sunday’s foes, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Against Cleveland, the Nuggets survived despite giving up 68 points in the paint. Two nights later, the Grizzlies pounded Denver behind 60 points in the paint.

Gordon said recently it was improving, though he was being cautious out of fear of playing and hurting it further.

Heading into Sunday evening, Denver had just 21 games remaining in the regular season.

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