BOSTON — Two teams with serious injury questions meet when the Denver Nuggets close a six-game road trip against the Celtics at TD Garden on Wednesday night.
The Nuggets, who hammered the Pistons in Detroit on Tuesday night in the front end of a back-to-back, have been playing without Paul Millsap (wrist surgery) and Nikola Jokic (ankle) and there seems to be some hope Jokic can return for the trip finale.
“He’s getting closer. He’s definitely moving in the right direction,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said before Tuesday night’s game. “The ankle is still very, very sore, but he’s moving better. He’s managing the pain, and whether he’s available tomorrow night, we’ll wait and see.”
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The Celtics, who lost Gordon Hayward probably for the season in the first quarter of the first game of the season, lost in Chicago on Monday night without Kyrie Irving (quad) and Marcus Morris (knee). Irving is listed as probable for Wednesday, but Al Horford, who played with a knee problem Monday, will rest. Morris is likely out for weeks.
Jokic — averaging 15.5 points, 10.6 rebounds and 4.6 assists — missed his sixth straight game Tuesday night, but the Nuggets led wire-to-wire to improve to 2-3 on the trip and 15-12 on the year. Millsap (15.3 points, 6.2 rebounds per game) has been out for 11 straight games.
Malone said Jokic is “our best player with Paul Millsap being out. You need Nikola Jokic to be a guy that’s looking to score and carrying the load offensively, but the great thing about Nikola is that he’s going to demand a crowd, a double-team, and he’s always going to make the right play.
“I think he takes greater satisfaction out of making his teammates better than he does scoring himself. But, when you have the injuries that we’ve had, when he does get back, he needs to be a guy that’s looking to score, regardless if he’s double-teamed or not, because we need his productivity.”
And the Celtics need Irving, who has been an MVP candidate in leading the Celtics to a 23-5 start before the loss to the Bulls on Monday.
“It was a collective success for them,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said, “and a collective failure for us.
“Sometimes you get your butt kicked. It’s as simple as that. Chicago played more competitive than we did. They played with more authority than we did.”
After playing Sunday and Monday, the Celtics host the Utah Jazz on Friday and visit Memphis on Saturday night, giving them five games in seven days.
The Nuggets dominated on the road Tuesday night and know what’s waiting for them in Boston on Wednesday.
“We’ve got to go out and defend, try to do the same thing we did tonight,” Denver’s Trey Lyles said. “The offense will come. As long as we’re doing what we’re supposed to do on the defensive end, we’ll be all right.”
The Nuggets swept the two games series from the Celtics last season, but Boston had won the previous four contests against Denver at TD Garden.