October 28, 2014

DENVER (AP) Danilo Gallinari's every moment on the court will be closely tracked and monitored.

For now, no more than 20 minutes a game for the Denver Nuggets forward, no matter how well he's playing, how tight the game may be or how much he pleads.

It's a restriction Gallinari can tolerate. Sure, he feels like he could play way more than that, but he doesn't want to press his luck.

His left knee is finally strong again after three surgeries and nearly 18 months away. Gallinari will return to the floor Wednesday night in the season opener against Detroit for the first time since blowing out that knee on April 4, 2013.

Just another game. At least, that's how the 26-year-old Italian is trying to treat it.

''If I don't, I'll be too nervous,'' he said. ''I'm happy, a little nervous. But when you have a chance to do what you love every day, it's great.''

This time last year, Gallinari was nothing more than a spectator, his knee not cooperating.

Now, there's no pain and Gallinari's jumper has never looked smoother.

His dunking? Not quite as graceful.

He was knocking down one deep 3-pointer after another at practice Tuesday. But when he grabbed a rebound and went in for a dunk, it looked more like an awkward layup.

''Dunking's not the best part of my game,'' Gallinari said, grinning. ''I'll let someone else do it.''

His strength is that outside shot, something the Nuggets have been sorely missing. Gallinari led the team with 135 3-pointers in 2012-13.

And as much as the Nuggets might want him on the court at all times, they'll ease him into the season by limiting his action.

''They came up with this plan and we'll just stick to the plan,'' Gallinari said.

Denver coach Brian Shaw's not quite sure how he's going to spread out Gallinari's minutes, something he has to figure out as he goes along. Gallinari will split time with fellow forwards Wilson Chandler and Alonzo Gee.

''The biggest part is if I use 15 minutes in the first half with Gallinari, do I want to save him for the last five minutes of the game?'' Shaw said. ''Is that fair to him after sitting out most of the second half? I'm going to let it flow and let the game dictate the way he's playing.''

Like Gallinari, Shaw will closely monitor the minutes of Nate Robinson and J.J. Hickson, who are both back after suffering ACL injuries. Same with JaVale McGee, who's on the mend from a left tibia stress fracture.

Once they're all up and running, they just might be an outside threat in the West. That's the take of Gallinari, anyway.

''We've always been the underdog and it will be that way this year, too,'' Gallinari said.

The team will run to the beat of guard Ty Lawson, who's been dealing with a balky left hamstring in the preseason. So much so that Shaw even gave Lawson and the rest the team the weekend off to heal up.

Team President Josh Kroenke kidded Shaw about the move in a news conference after practice.

''You just wanted to BBQ and watch football,'' Kroenke said.

''And fish. Got a little fishing in,'' Shaw said. ''(The break) worked the way I wanted it to work. ... We came back and really got after it.''

NOTES: In Shaw's opinion, Lawson took his recent visit with Broncos QB Peyton Manning to heart as the two talked all about leadership. When asked if there was a little bit of Manning's demeanor in Lawson, Kroenke jokingly interjected: ''We'll know if he calls out our scoreboard guy.'' That was a reference to Manning getting upset at the person running the video board for playing music when the five-time NFL MVP was operating the offense in a win over San Diego last Thursday. ... The Nuggets split with the Pistons last season, each team winning at home. ... Hickson's season debut will be delayed as he serves a five-game suspension for violating the terms of the league's anti-drug program.

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