Nuggets coach Michael Malone left open the possibility that injured shooting guard Gary Harris could make his NBA “bubble” debut sometime during the team’s first-round series against Utah.
Harris arrived late to the bubble but didn’t play in any of the team’s three scrimmages and missed all eight seeding games due to a right hip strain he’s had for weeks.
“I think he’s getting in a really good place mentally and physically and it would be great to get him back at some point in this series if that’s possible,” Malone said Thursday, a day before Game 3.
Malone said he’s been encouraged by the progress he’s seen from Harris in terms of his movements and explosions to the basket, but he was also careful not to set any hard expectations for a potential return.
“I definitely think Gary’s getting closer and closer, but I also don’t want to put any pressure and lead anybody along,” Malone said. “Gary Harris is not playing tomorrow. But he is taking steps in the right direction. I think more importantly, when you have an injury, yes you have the physical injury, the injury part of it, but there’s also a mental side, especially when you’re dealing with a guy like Gary Harris, who’s gone through many of these soft tissue injuries before.”
Malone said he’s been encouraged to see him working hard, which he said is reflective of Harris’ positive mental state. Harris has had a handful of soft tissue/core injuries over the last two seasons.
Monte Morris, one of Harris’ best friends on the team, has seen the same thing. He said Harris has been vocal from the sidelines and been quick to offer insight on limiting some of Utah’s playmakers. More importantly, Morris agreed that Harris is taking positive steps but also wants to ensure he’s physically fit before making his return.
“His head mentally, he’s ready to make a comeback whenever,” Morris said. “He’s comfortable. One thing about Gary, he wants to be able to be 100 percent to help us, he don’t want to go out there 50 percent or 75. He wants to be all in. Hopefully we can get him back here soon and help us defensively.”
A potential Harris return would help the Nuggets substantially considering the litany of wing players the Jazz utilize. Not that the Nuggets are looking this far, at all, but it would also be significant in a potential second-round matchup against the Los Angeles Clippers. It’s been over five months since Harris played in an NBA game.
The Nuggets could use a mental boost after learning Wednesday that Will Barton left the bubble in search of a second opinion for his ailing knee.