As the Denver Nuggets have tried to find footing through injuries and inconsistency, one thing has emerged for this team: Wilson Chandler has become their best player.
Chandler may be the best-kept secret early in the NBA season. Even though he has primarily come off the bench, he is averaging a team-high 18.3 points, with 7.7 rebounds, after missing all of 2015-16 due to a hip injury.
In short, he has become the most invaluable player for Denver.
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"It's too early to start talking about sixth man of the year and all of that stuff," Nuggets coach Michael Malone told The Denver Post. "But he's been our MVP."
Chandler has been lights out of late. In the last eight games, he is averaging 21.8 points and 8.6 rebounds while the rotation has been in constant flux. In that time Danilo Gallinari, Will Barton, Gary Harris and Juancho Hernangomez have been out with injuries at various points.
Chandler has been the rock for Denver (7-10), and he will try to continue that play against the Miami Heat on Wednesday night.
"He's probably playing at one of the highest levels in the league right now," point guard Emmanuel Mudiay told The Denver Post. "He's a mismatch problem. Him playing (power forward) is helping us a lot. He's making tough shots."
The Nuggets may get reinforcements for their game Wednesday night. Gallinari (thigh), Hernangomez (ankle) and Barton (personal reasons) practiced Monday. Gallinari has missed the last three games and Hernangomez two straight.
The Heat are coming off two straight home losses as they embark on a three-game Western Conference road swing. They were bolstered by the return of Wayne Ellington in a loss to Boston on Monday.
His shooting from the 3-point line could help inject some life into Miami's perimeter shooting.
"I know I can help in that area," Ellington, who had been out since the preseason finale due to a thigh bruise, told the Sun-Sentinel. "And that's really what I do. I'll continue to catch my rhythm and get better while I'm out there."
The Heat (5-12) are still trying to figure things out after star Dwyane Wade signed with Chicago in the summer. Things will be tough with the absence of Dion Waiters (groin) and Justise Winslow (left wrist), who both didn't make the trip.
Center Hassan Whiteside, who had an MRI on his sore left knee Monday, and point guard Goran Dragic, who had 27 points and 17 assists in the loss to the Celtics, are also ailing. Whiteside told the Sun-Sentinel the MRI came back negative.
"It eased my mind a lot," he said. "Because it was very painful. It was bothering me, so it's just swelling and I'm going to stay on it and just keep icing it and taking care of my knees."
The Heat will need his rebounding against Denver's active frontcourt. Kenneth Faried has played well since being put back in the starting lineup for Nikola Jokic, and 7-footer Jusuf Nurkic is a load in the middle.
The biggest concern for Miami should be Chandler, who is feeling healthy and enjoying a career year after injuries cost him 153 games since his first full season in Denver in 2011-2012.
"I was derailed a lot. It happens," he told The Denver Post. "It's part of the game. So this is the first time I was able to come back fully healthy, start the season off 100 percent. And I was able to work on my game."