Nuggets Journal: Will Barton isn’t taking his health, or these playoffs, for granted

Will Barton’s demeanor perked up, and he repeated himself several times over.

As he was walking off the Nuggets’ practice court, the veteran had every reason to emphasize his excitement ahead of Saturday’s Game 1 vs. Golden State.

“Very excited, very excited,” Barton said following Thursday’s practice. “Just can’t get more closer to Saturday. Can’t get closer, man, I’m just ready.”

The last few playoffs have been torturous for Barton. During the 2018-19 campaign, Barton’s season was derailed by core surgery. When he returned, he felt like he was playing catchup. Barton wasn’t quite right entering the postseason, and he got benched midway through the San Antonio series.

The following year, he watched from outside of the “Bubble” as his team made NBA history while a knee injury kept him on the shelf. And last year, Barton missed the entire first round against Portland due to a hamstring injury. He rehabbed hard and returned against Phoenix only to get swept out of the playoffs against a superior team.

“It entered my mind for me to just go out there and leave it all on the court, play hard, knowing that I’m fortunate this year to have good health and be able to play when that wasn’t always the case,” he said. “I just want to take advantage of it and don’t take it for granted.”

Nuggets coach Michael Malone has seen first-hand Barton’s dedication. On early mornings, sometimes Barton will be in the gym working. Other times, he’ll be there late at night. It’s not uncommon for the two to cross paths.

“We need Will,” Malone said. “… I’m excited that he finally has a chance to be healthy going into the playoffs.”

He also has a chance to make a marked impact on the series. Outside of Nikola Jokic, there are more unknowns than one would like going into a showdown against a team with championship DNA. A strong few weeks from Barton — he averaged nearly 15 points per game on 36.5% from the 3-point line this season — could tilt the series and help minimize the talent disparity. In alleviating pressure on Jokic, his offense will be vital.

“I just gotta be me,” Barton said. “When I’m on top of my game, we usually win ball games.”

Barton knows the pressure is on him, Aaron Gordon and Monte Morris to help solve the Warriors’ defense. But his own defense will be tested, too.

The Nuggets have stressed running Golden State’s 3-point shooters off the line, including Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Jordan Poole and Andrew Wiggins. Barton will inevitably see one of those guards, and likely most of them. Can Denver’s backcourt switch and stick with their roving snipers?

That’s for a best-of-seven series to decide. In the meantime, Barton has his own list of people to validate, beginning with himself.

“Just show myself, my family, guys that are around me in the offseason when I’m putting in that work, they know how much I train to get to a moment like this,” he said. “I just have things to prove to myself and my family, that’s it.”

On the doorstep of the postseason, Barton isn’t dissuaded by Golden State’s No. 3 seed or the championship banners the Warriors have hung.

“We’re confident,” said Barton. “That’s all I’ll say.”

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