Nuggets’ Markus Howard seizes chance vs. Spurs: “I know what I’m capable of doing”

SAN ANTONIO – Markus Howard knew his time was coming.

Amid a wacky season, with injuries and COVID protocols derailing Denver’s best-laid plans, it was inevitable that Howard would eventually get a chance.

Darren Abate, The Associated Press

Denver Nuggets’ Markus Howard (00) shoots against San Antonio Spurs’ Jakob Poeltl during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Darren Abate)

When it came in Orlando, on the second game of Denver’s seven-game road odyssey, he didn’t capitalize. Ten days later, with Austin Rivers stuck in health and safety protocols and Will Barton out due to a non-COVID related illness, Howard did.

The minutes were available, and Howard snatched them. His second-quarter eruption catapulted the Nuggets to a 72-56 halftime lead, and eventually, a win. He poured in 16 of his 21 points in the quarter, dousing San Antonio’s porous defense with five of his six 3-pointers.

“I thought Markus was a difference-maker tonight,” said Nuggets coach Michael Malone, who brought his name up unsolicited.

Howard accounted for six of Denver’s 20 3-pointers.

On the first triple, Howard broke the Spurs’ press by canning a 3-pointer from the top of the arc with 14 seconds left on the shot clock. Next, he buried one from the corner after Facu Campazzo collapsed the defense with his penetration.

Sensing his thermometer was rising, the Nuggets ran plays for Howard on his next two threes, both of which came via dribble hand-offs by Nikola Jokic. On his last trey of the second quarter, the Spurs lost him in transition and Howard buried another one.

“Markus can shoot, he can score,” Malone said. “Some of those plays we haven’t ran in a while.”

When he checked out with 3:12 left in the quarter, the Nuggets up 59-52, the entire bench stood to congratulate him as he walked to his seat.

“I just know any time I’m put in a position to be in the game, I know my skillset, and I know what I’m capable of doing,” Howard said. “And so do my teammates. They have trust in me to be able to make plays.”

It’s not hard to see why his teammates have so much love for him. Howard went out of his way to prop up Bones Hyland, Denver’s other perimeter threat on the second unit. Hyland, a fixture of the rotation, buried four 3-pointers, including three in that tidal wave second quarter. The gravity that they commanded helped create space for both of them.

“Teams kind of have to pick their poison in a way,” Howard said of the tandem.

According to Howard, there’s no way Hyland should’ve ever dropped to No. 26 in the draft. But as soon as he did, the two talked about playing off one another and capitalizing on each other’s range. He complimented Jokic, claiming he’s even better than he was last season, and praised Campazzo for his elite vision.

Saturday’s outburst was a product of the trust and goodwill Howard’s earned by being a consummate teammate even though his chances have been scarce. And with an inconsistent bench, particularly one that’s struggled to make 3-pointers, it was as good an audition as any that he deserves more playing time moving forward.

“He’s been patiently waiting, and it’s not easy to wait, but tonight came his opportunity, and he seized it,” Malone said.

A man of faith, Howard never lost his own.

“It is tough just not knowing what to expect, but at the same time, it’s the NBA,” he said. “Everybody’s good, and you just have to be patient, just wait for an opportunity.”

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