Mason Plumlee heard the conversation taking place from the other side of the locker room and headed toward his teammate of three weeks, Gary Harris.
“Gary, your mom played at Purdue?” Plumlee asked.
“Yep,” Harris said.
“My mom played at Purdue, too,” Plumee responded.
“Oh, really?” Harris said, his eyebrows raised.
Plumlee and the Nuggets are still in the getting-to-know-you stage as the big man enters his second month in Denver after his acquisition in a trade from Portland. But with each day, each game, each party in this newfound relationship appears to be getting more and more comfortable with the other.
Plumlee played his first game with the Nuggets on Feb. 15. Since then, Denver was 8-5 entering Saturday’s home game against Houston. The Nuggets grew their lead in the race for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference grew by a game since Plumlee’s arrival entering play this weekend.
For all the talk of how “Nurkic Fever” has taken over Portland since the Nuggets and Trail Blazers swapped big men in February, there is little doubt Plumlee has made the Nuggets a better basketball team. He has helped cover up some of the biggest holes that threatened to derail the team’s playoff dreams. Namely, defense and bench productivity at the center spot.
Prior to Plumlee’s arrival, the Nuggets ranked last in the NBA with a defensive rating of 110.8 — a measure of points yielded per 100 possessions. Denver’s rating in the 13 games Plumlee has played: 108.4, which ranks 20th. The Nuggets desired to be more aggressive covering pick-and-roll plays out of the break, and Plumlee’s versatility in being able to stay with ball-handlers when switches are made has paid dividends.
Offensively, Plumlee has earned rave reviews from teammates for his willingness to set jaw-rattling screens, run to the rim, share the basketball and do anything else the Nuggets need to keep their high-powered attack running smoothly.
“He just wants to win,” Jokic said after he and Plumlee became the first Nuggets teammates in eight seasons to post at least 10 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and three blocks in the same game during Thursday’s win over the Clippers. “He wants to do the stuff that some other players don’t want to do.”
That “stuff” will help make Plumlee, who is averaging 9.4 points, 7.4 rebounds and 3.8 assists with the Nuggets, big money when he becomes a restricted free agent in July. At that point his rookie contract ends. The Nuggets have made it clear they want their new center to be a part of the culture they are building.
The Nuggets aren’t the only ones enjoying the fruits of their side of a rare trade that appears to be sparking two teams. Following the victory over the Clippers, Plumlee marveled at how unselfishly his new team plays on offense.
“I was telling Mike (Miller) on the bench that this is collectively the best passing team I’ve played on,” Plumlee said. “It’s exciting. There is energy in the ball. I feel like the way guys play on this team is contagious.”
Contagious like Plum Fever?