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Juancho Hernangomez, Denver Nuggets ahead, to reunite with brother, Willy Hernangomez

As Juancho Hernangomez approached the Nuggets’ locker room following Monday’s shootaround, a smile again crossed his face.

That might be surprising, given the second-year forward has not stepped on the floor in 16 of Denver’s past 19 games. But Hernangomez has many reasons to smile. For one, he gets to spend time with his brother, Willy, when the New York Knicks visit the Pepsi Center Thursday. And, after illness kept him sidelined for much of the season’s first half, Hernangomez finally feels healthy and believes the beginning of 2018 will be better than the end of 2017.

“I said to Coach (Michael Malone), ‘I’m ready if you need me,’ ” Hernangomez said. “I don’t say ‘I need to play.’ Of course I want to play. But I don’t (put) pressure on him, because he’s the coach and he makes the decisions.

“I just tell him I’m ready, in any case, and I’m ready to bring my energy.”

Following a promising rookie season in which Hernangomez averaged 4.9 points and three rebounds in 14 minutes per game and shot 40.7 percent from 3-point range, he spent a busy offseason playing for the Nuggets in summer league and for his home country of Spain in FIBA EuroBasket 2017. Hernangomez acknowledged the commitments did not provide much time to rest, and Nuggets coaches monitored his workload during training camp.

But Hernangomez was diagnosed with mononucleosis in late October and missed 10 of Denver’s first 12 games. After he returned, he fell out of the rotation on a long early-December road trip and has been inactive for 10 games since Christmas. A separate bout with the flu in late December was another setback.

“I’ve never been that sick in my life,” Hernangomez said of the past few months. “So I’m gonna be healthy for the next 10 years.”

Hernangomez said he’s now back in game shape, allowing him to work extra following practices. But Malone said Hernangomez is in the same situation as any player who has recently slipped out of the rotation — that “defense carries the day” when deciding which players receive minutes.

“You have to guard your position,” Malone said. “You have to have discipline. And if you do those things, anything you give us on the offensive end of the floor is just a bonus.”

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