The Nuggets dodged a bullet but Paul Millsap’s absence has immediate ramifications

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X-rays on Paul Millsap's left wrist came back negative, league sources confirmed to BSN Denver Monday afternoon. ESPN's Chris Haynes first reported that Millsap's X-rays were clean and the Denver Nuggets initially feared that their starting power forward had suffered a fracture.

Millsap injured his wrist during the first quarter of Sunday's 18-point loss in Los Angeles to the Lakers. The 32-year-old tried to play through the pain but went to the Nuggets' locker room accompanied by head athletic trainer Dan Shimensky midway through the quarter.

Millsap would play roughly five minutes in the second but was clearly experiencing discomfort. He was ruled out of the rest of the game after halftime.

Although Denver can breathe a sigh of relief with the news that Millsap avoided a fracture, they're not out of the woods yet. Millsap was diagnosed with a sprained wrist that will still take time to heal.

Millsap won't play Monday against the Kings and his status for Wednesday's matchup in Houston is up in the air. Denver will miss him dearly.

While the Nuggets' offense was expected to approach last season's top-10 rank, their defense was a question mark entering the 2017-18 campaign. Denver finished last season with the 29th-ranked defense — just percentage points ahead of the league-worst Lakers — but Nuggets' coach Michael Malone and his staff crafted together a more aggressive scheme this offseason that supposedly played to the strengths of Denver's roster.

The new scheme provided some hope that the Nuggets' defense could improve to around a league-average ranking.

Another component to an improved defense was the addition of Millsap. Denver's starting power forward, who signed a three-year, $90 million free agent contract this summer with the Nuggets, played a similar defensive scheme last year in Atlanta and ask players up and down Denver's roster and they'll unanimously agree that the new, more aggressive scheme is one they enjoy playing, one that's better suited for the roster, and is a style that makes them play harder.

Through 16 games, Malone (who will serve out his one-game suspension for entering the court, halting play, and making contact with an official Sunday versus the Lakers) has been pleased by his team's improved defense. Denver has shot up to the 17th-best defense in the league this year and is giving up 105.8 points per 100 possessions through 16 games — down from the 110.5 they surrendered a year ago.

While there's still a lot of room for improvement, the Nuggets are much more capable on the defensive end of the floor this season. Jamal Murray's effort, intensity and renewed health, Gary Harris' consistency, Wilson Chandler's presence in the starting lineup and Jokic's improved play are all contributing factors as well.

Without their traffic cop in Millsap, Denver's defense could dip. Millsap is averaging a team-high 1.25 blocks per game and the Nuggets are giving up 104.6 points per 100 possessions when he's on the floor and 107.6 when he sits, per NBA.com Kenneth Faried, who started 34 games for the Nuggets last season, will step into the starting lineup against the Kings but isn't regarded as the defensive player Millsap is.

Injuries are a part of the league. They happen to nearly every team and luckily for Denver, they have the frontcourt depth behind Millsap in Faried, Mason Plumlee, and Trey Lyles to slightly soften the blow.

Chandler and Juancho Hernangomez, who recently returned to Denver's rotation against the Lakers after a bout with mono, could allow the Nuggets to play more smallball as well until Millsap returns.

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