DENVER — Will Barton doesn’t get tired.
Even after dropping a casual career-high 35 points on just 18 shots in the Nuggets’ 129-114 win over the Clippers, Barton could have run it back.
“I’m just happy to be out there playing,” Barton said. “I’m like this can go on forever if it’s up to me.”
Barton put together his second-straight headliner Thursday night and has now poured in 57 points on 19-30 shooting over his past two games.
But Denver’s fourth-straight win wasn’t just about Barton’s production (or Nikola Jokic‘s fifth triple-double). Because of a depleted Nuggets’ rotation, that was without Danilo Gallinari (left knee bone bruise) and Wilson Chandler (right groin contusion), Barton was forced to play 36 minutes, his highest total in a month.
The 26-year-old wasn’t even given the courtesy to log those 36 minutes within the rhythm of a typical Michael Malone rotation either. Barton was on the floor for 17 minutes straight in the first half, entering at the five-minute mark of the first quarter and completing the half, and then 18+ minutes straight over the third and fourth quarters.”
“I’m not thinking about that because I’m a baller,” Barton said of playing 17 and 18 minutes straight. “I’m one of those guys that’ll play 5-on-5 in the gym all day until whoever quits. That’s just who I’ve been my whole life so I don’t even think about that.”
“He never gets tired. He’s just an energizer bunny,” Malone said. “And I think the fact that he had been struggling, put together two games like that back-to-back. He didn’t want to come out. He’s feeling good. He’s playing well. He’s hot. Let him play.”
Barton had been struggling since February’s All-Star break prior to his last two games. Over his first nine outings post-All-Star break, Barton averaged 9.6 points, on 38.1 percent shooting from the field and 23.7 percent from three, down from the 13.0 points on 43.5 and 35.2 percent shooting respectively that he recorded pre-break. Since, Barton has looked like the potential Sixth Man of the Year candidate he wanted to be at the season’s onset.
The rangy 6-foot-5 wing had been in a self-described “slump” prior to these past two outings. It was a confusing stretch for Barton who couldn’t really figure out why he was struggling. He was still putting in the work, but the results were hiding in the weeds.
“It’s hard when you’re in a slump and you’re in the gym as much as I am,” Barton said. “It’s like, well you’re working hard, and you start overthinking. Just trust your work you’ve put in think team-first, and play.”
“He’s hard on himself. He works hard,” Malone said of Barton. “He’s the first guy here every day. I want our fans to know that. Will Barton is a tremendously hard worker and to see him just relaxing, letting the game come to him, making plays. It’s great to see and hopefully, that continues moving forward.”
Now, the Nuggets sit 2.5 games up on the Portland for the eighth seed in the West. Dallas and Minnesota sit 3.5 and 4.5 games back respectively as Denver tries to pull away from the pack of middling Western Conference teams vying for the last playoff spot during one of their toughest stretches of the season.
They’ll need Barton at his best to get there.