Nuggets players know winning at home is key to their postseason success.
Will Barton is a standings watcher. He can’t help it. He wants the Nuggets to go to the playoffs, and he’ll always know just what it takes to get there.
Right now, the Nuggets are in the midst of their most critical homestand of the season if they want to be surprise playoff contenders come late in the season. And beyond that, finishing out January on a high note would keep Barton and his teammates on the brink of being in the thick of things — and determine how the trade deadline is viewed.
“I want to be a playoff team,” Barton said. “So I’m keeping my eye on the eighth and seventh seeds. We just need to string together some wins and not go on long losing streaks, and I feel like we can be a playoff team.”
The Nuggets entered Tuesday night 3½ games out of the eighth spot. Getting there won’t be easy. Competition around the Nuggets is tough. Utah is getting healthier, Sacramento has improved after stumbling out of the blocks and Portland already owns two wins in three matchups with the Nuggets.
The Nuggets won the first of their eight-game homestand Sunday against Charlotte and would like to finish 6-2.
“At least 6-2,” forward Danilo Gallinari said.
Doing that requires beating some of the NBA’s best teams, beginning with Golden State on Wednesday night. There also are upcoming games against Western Conference teams Oklahoma City and Memphis.
But the bulk of the games are against Eastern Conference teams, and before eyes are rolled, consider the East has been deeper and, outside of Golden State and San Antonio, arguably better than the West.
All of the Eastern Conference teams coming to Denver are currently in playoff spots — Miami, Indiana, Detroit and Atlanta. Outside of Charlotte, no team on this homestand had a record going into Tuesday’s game any worse than 21-16.
So a winning homestand would be a boost.
“It would give us a lot of confidence,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “If we are able to go 6-2 in this homestand, that will give us confidence as we continue to get healthy moving forward. If we can go into the all-star break with momentum, hopefully that will help us come out of the break with momentum and, you know, see what happens down the stretch. But that’s been our goal the whole season: Try to get better every day and find a way to remain competitive and relevant in the Western Conference.”
It might also quell any front-office urges to move multiple players at the trade deadline.
Barton noted “5-3 or better would be very huge. Especially with the parity right now at the bottom of the West. So if you can get a win streak like that going, on a homestand like that, then you’ll be right in the mix.”
The Nuggets’ Will Barton is thinking about the postseason: “We just need to string together some wins and not go on long losing streaks, and I feel like we can be a playoff team.” Brent Lewis, The Denver Post