Warriors' role players have big opportunity vs. Nuggets

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LOS ANGELES -- If you thought the Warriors have been shorthanded lately, just wait until what you see Monday night in Denver. No Steph Curry, no Klay Thompson, no Gary Payton II. 

That's on top of already being without Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala and James Wiseman.

Monday night's game against the Nuggets is a re-scheduled contest that originally was supposed to take place on Dec. 30. However, the Nuggets had a COVID-19 outbreak and the league dropped the game at the worst time possible for the Warriors. Steve Kerr's response was sending his two healthy All-Stars back home along with Thompson. 

They figure to be available for Tuesday's home game against the Los Angeles Clippers. 

Payton, who missed Saturday's loss to the Los Angeles Lakers to knee soreness, put up some post-practice shots Sunday but will sit Monday's game again to the same issue. 

Golden State's roster will be more slender than thin mint cookies, all while the Warriors try to contain a 284-pound monster in Nikola Jokic. On Sunday night, Jokic had another MVP-like performance scoring 30 of his 46 points in the fourth quarter and overtime to beat the New Orleans Pelicans. The showcase again highlighted how great Jokic has been this season. 

It also was music to the Warriors' ears. They have to hope playing 43 minutes on the first night of a back-to-back will hurt Jokic, though it's hard to say with the season he's putting together.

This isn't the first time this has happened to the Warriors. Really, when have they been whole? Not once this season. When Klay made his long-awaited return on Jan. 9, Draymond played seven seconds just so he could share the court again with his longtime teammate. He hasn't played in a game since.

"We're kind of used to that," Kevon Looney said Sunday during the Warriors' practice. "Everybody's gotta be ready. It's kind of been that way the whole year. We got guys in and out of the lineup to injury or different things.

"So guys have to step up, it's an opportunity for everybody on the team to go out there and show what they can do. We're going in there trying to get a win like we always do."

Looney this season has been the Warriors' Iron Man. In a season full of so much uncertainty, nobody has been more reliable. He has played, and started, all 64 games this season. He's the only Warrior to do that and is one of just four players in the entire NBA. 

There he'll be again in Denver serving as the Warriors' starting center. Who will join him on the court is Golden State's latest mystery. But that doesn't matter one bit to Looney. 

He truly sees a handful of positives for the Warriors' usual non-starters and role players getting a chance to prove themselves against a playoff team. 

"It benefits the whole group," Looney said. "Last time, I think it was against San Antonio. We got to really see [Jonathan Kuminga] and Moses [Moody] step up and I wouldn't expect anything different. [Jordan Poole], he's usually the leader for us when guys are out, so I expect guys like JP, JK, Moses and [Damion Lee] to get back in the rotation. Juan [Toscano-Anderson], everybody's gonna step up and do what they do. We're just gonna go out there and compete and see what happens."

That game against the Spurs on Feb. 1 was the second of a back-to-back where the Warriors were without Curry, Thompson, Wiggins, Green, Iguodala and Otto Porter Jr. Kerr started Poole, Moody, Lee, Toscano-Anderson and Looney. Poole scored a game-high 31 points, Moody had his first career 20-point game, Lee dropped 21 points on five 3-pointers, JTA led the Warriors with seven assists and Looney had a double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds. Kuminga played 29 minutes off the bench and scored 19 points. 

The Warriors overcame a 17-point deficit for a 124-120 win.

In Saturday night's loss at the hands of LeBron James, it again was the Warriors' bench that shined bright. Golden State's bench scored 55 points. The Lakers' second unit, led by Carmelo Anthony's 14, scored 22 points. Warriors starters not named Steph Curry scored only 31 points. He scored 30. 

Poole put up 23 points for the second straight game, Kuminga scored 18, Toscano-Anderson was a team-high plus-4 and Moody continues to show why he has secured his spot in a playoff rotation. The rookie played 21 minutes and scored nine points while making all four of his shot attempts. Pressure isn't a part of his vocabulary. 

"It's an opportunity. Free swing," Moody said at practice. "I think it goes without saying we're the underdogs going into this battle. But like it was in San Antonio, young guys coming together. When you got that nothing-to-lose type of mentality, you can make some pretty special things happen."

Moody can get hot in a hurry. Here's all the proof you need: He hasn't missed a single shot in his last three games played, making 11 straight in that span. As much as he might want to, Moody isn't hunting shots -- he's sticking to his role when given an opportunity. 

"Right now I don't," Moody said. "I just let the game come to me. We got guys where that's their role, that's their job. Just playing my role, doing what's best for this team and what's best for the team is what's best for me."

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Over those three games, Moody has averaged 9.3 points while playing 14.6 minutes per game. While his role has grown, Lee hasn't played the past two games. He and Nemanja Bjelica were the only two Warriors to sit the entire loss Saturday night. In Lee's last game played, he scored 15 points in the Warriors' loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves and he should have plenty of chances to get his shots up in Denver.

Lee on Sunday collided with Chris Chiozza during a 3-on-3 session ran by coach Kenny Atkinson. The scrimmage came to a stop for a minute or two as each player hobbled and needed time to compose themselves. They continued on and Lee later had a strong closeout on a 3-point attempt and then nailed one himself. 

Kerr said Sunday that Chiozza, who hasn't played since scoring nine points in that win vs. the Spurs, will be back in the rotation against the Nuggets. 

The Warriors have reinforcements on the way. But when a star-less Golden State team plays the Nuggets, a group of Warriors looking to prove they still belong with this roster at full strength will have the golden opportunity to again play spoilers on the road. 

Ending a four-game skid wouldn't hurt either.

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