DePaul alum Wilson Chandler makes playoff push

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Now that the Denver Nuggets need him the most, former DePaul star Wilson Chandler is finally getting the opportunity to start.

Chandler’s chance comes after starting forward Danilo Gallinari tore his ACL in a game against the Dallas Mavericks April 5. In his fifth season, and third with the Nuggets, Chandler has played a pivotal role coming off the bench this season. However, with Gallinari out and the playoffs approaching, Chandler will need to step up to fill the absence of one of the Nuggets’ best players.

“This could be an opportunity for (Chandler) to take a step that he’s been yearning to take,” said Benjamin Hochman, the Nuggets’ beat writer for the Denver Post. “He’s had some huge games this year and he’s a player that can run the floor pretty well. He’s slowly becoming a fan favorite.” Denver has embraced Chandler in large part because of his play. So far this season, Chandler, who was at DePaul from 2005 until 2007, has made a significant impact when on the court. The Nuggets got off to a rough start in the first two months of the Chandler missed most of the games due to a hip injury.

When he returned, the Nuggets went on to become one of the best teams in the NBA. Since January, the Nuggets have been 36-9 and are positioned to be the third seed in the playoffs. The areas that Chandler contributes, said Hochman, are a main reason why the Nuggets are playing better as a team.

“Coach George Karl gushes about Chandler’s length and his ability to defend the perimeter,” said Hochman. “The key for him is penetrating on offense when he’s out there, but he also complements with the 3-ball. I think he’s going to fit in nicely.”

The biggest question surrounding Chandler and this Nuggets team going forward is if this group can produce in the playoffs. Since 2003, the Nuggets have only made it out of the first round once, in 2009. Their last two years, when Chandler was on the team, were first round exits to the Thunder and Lakers, respectively. In his only playoff appearance, Chandler played miserably against the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2011. Chandler averaged 12.5 points per game that season, but was held to just 4.8 points and shot a terrible 27 percent in the series.

Fellow Denver Post writer Christopher Dempsey said that if the Nuggets advance in the playoffs, it will be because of the team’s depth and Chandler actually producing this time around.

“(The Nuggets) feel like they have a guy in there who can get the job done in there and they can depend on,” said Dempsey. “He’s a versatile guy. He’s gonna play the three, but he can also play the four.

“Chandler’s going to have to prove, no matter what the defense does, that he can be successful and contribute to this basketball team.”

Hochman made an important distinction that Chandler’s role in the offense and defense will be different than what Gallinari contributed to the team. “Some people have a misconception that they’re just replacing Gallinari with Gallinari and that’s just not the case,” said Hochman. “I will say that Chandler will help the team in many different ways.”

Both writers were impressed with what Chandler has contributed for the Nuggets this season. Chandler is averaging 12.4 points per game and shooting 45 percent from the field, including a career-best 40 percent from beyond the arc.

While appearing in the starting lineup since Gallinari’s injury, Chandler has so far lived up to expectations. On a nationally televised game against the San Antonio Spurs, Chandler logged 41 minutes and scored 29 points to lead the Nuggets in a 96-86 win. He also scored 21 points in a blowout win over the Houston Rockets.

“This is an opportunity for Chandler to show he can be more than just a 20-25 minute a game player, to be more of 30-35 minute player,” said Dempsey. “It’s really on him to show that consistency.”