The Nuggets were never going to find their playoff stride until starting forward Aaron Gordon returned.

After initially being ruled out for Sunday’s game against the Clippers, Gordon was swiftly upgraded to available despite a left rib contusion that had given him problems for the last few weeks.

Asked about the upgrade prior to tipoff, Nuggets coach Michael Malone gasped sarcastically. Gordon took part in the team’s on-court walk-through on Sunday evening.

“It all comes down to, with that injury, his comfort level,” Malone said. Gordon, according to Malone, had been hit in the rib several times, which caused him significant pain.

Gordon wasn’t in Memphis on Saturday, marking his fifth consecutive missed game. When asked after the game about a timeframe, Malone was less optimistic than he was a day later.

“If not (Sunday), hopefully (vs.) Houston, and we’ll just keep on giving him enough time to get back to where he’s comfortable and confident to go out there and play and play effectively,” Malone said.

Though it’s not a fracture, according to a league source, it’s been extremely troublesome nonetheless.

“Obviously, he’s a big part of what we’ve been able to do this year on both ends of the floor,” Malone said.

“His ability to guard, his ability to rebound, and his ability to play with Nikola (Jokic), and the athleticism that he provides is something that is hard to replicate.”