Nuggets not giv­ing up hope in playo≠ quest

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Nick Kos­mider Nick Kos­mider: 303- 954- 1516, nkos­mider@ den­ver­post. com or @ nick­kos­mider

charlotte, n. c. » The game was com­ing down to the wire, and Will Bar­ton jumped to his feet and waved his towel.

In­side an empty Spec­trum Cen­ter onThurs­day, a full- court, 3- on- 3 game­fea­tur­ingNuggets play­ers Juan­cho Her­nan­gomez, Em­manuel Mu­diay and Mike Miller and play­erde­vel­op­ment coaches John Beck­ett, Stephen Gra­ham and Ogn­jen Sto­jakovicwas­must- see en­ter­tain­ment for the rest of the play­ers as they cooled down af­ter a morn­ing prac­tice.

If the Nuggets, yelling en­cour­age­ment or talk­ing trash at ev­ery shot, were still down af­ter a crush­ing loss at Port­land on Tues­day night that put a mas­sive dent in their play­off hopes, they weren’t show­ing it.

“It is def­i­nitely still at­tain­able,” Nuggets guard Gary Har­ris said of reach­ing the post­sea­son. “If we win out, who says ( the Trail Blaz­ers) can’t drop a few games? They’ve got a tough sched­ule just like us. Any­thing can hap­pen. We just have to keep fight­ing to the end.”

TheNuggets ( 35- 39) trailed Port­land by one game— and a tiebreaker— in the race for the eighth and fi­nal play­off spot, en­ter­ing the Trail Blaz­ers’ late Thurs­day game host­ing Hous­ton. Port­land plays six of its eight games at home, with four com­ing against teams cur­rently in the play­off field.

Win­ning out, of course, would be amon­u­men­tal task forDen­ver; the Nuggets haven’t won more than four straight games all sea­son. They still have six road games, in­clud­ing two back- to- back sets away from the Pepsi Cen­ter. Their two home games come against a New Or­leans team that dec­i­mated the Nuggets on Sun­day and Ok­la­homa City, a team led by MVP fron­trun­ner Rus­sel­lWest­brook.

What lies ahead made what had hap­pened 36 hours ago so detri­men­tal, but the Nuggets were adaman­tThurs­day they have not been de­terred de­spite a mar­gin of er­ror that is hov­er­ing near zero.

“We just need to be ag­gres­sive and be­lieve we can still go to the play­offs,” cen­ter Nikola Jo­kic said. “We have to treat ev­ery game as im­por­tant.”

“I’ve been in the league a long time, and you ex­pect the un­ex­pected,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “If we stop be­liev­ing and let­ting go of the rope, it could get ugly. I didn’t get that sense ( Thurs­day). Our guys are dis­ap­pointed that we had a bad home loss against New Or­leans and a tough loss against a Port­land team that is play­ing very well. We have an op­por­tu­nity to get back on track.”

Fri­day’s meet­ing with the Hor­nets ( 34- 41)— who are three games out of a play­off spot in the Eastern Con­fer­ence with seven to play — serves as a re­minder of the in­con­sis­tency that has formed pot­holes

The road ahead

The bat­tle for the eighth and fi­nal play­off spot in the Western Con­fer­ence is a two- team race be­tween the Nuggets and Trail Blaz­ers. Port­land en­tered Thurs­day a game ahead and owns the tiebreak­ers against Den­ver: Den­ver ( 35- 39) Fri­day at Charlotte ( 34- 41) Sun­day at Mi­ami ( 37- 38) Tues­day at New Or­leans ( 32- 43) April 5 at Hous­ton ( 51- 23) April 7 vs. New Or­leans ( 32- 43) April 9 vs. Ok­la­homa City ( 43- 31) April 11 at Dal­las ( 31- 43) April 12 at Ok­la­homa City ( 43- 31)

DEN­VER AT CHARLOTTE Spot­light on Kemba Walker:

Trail Blaz­ers *( 36- 38) Thurs­day vs. Hous­ton *( 51- 23), late Satur­day vs. Phoenix *( 22- 53) Mon­day 3 at Min­nesota ( 30- 44) Tues­day at Utah *( 45- 29) April 6 vs. Min­nesota ( 30- 44) April 8 vs. Utah *( 45- 29) April 10 vs. San An­to­nio ( 57- 17) April 12 vs. New Or­leans ( 32- 43) 5 p. m. Fri­day, ALT; 950 AM The point guard kept Charlotte’s thin play­off hopes alive Thurs­day with a dag­ger 3- poin­ter late in the fourth quar­ter to lift the Hor­nets over the Raptors. In a 112- 102 Hor­nets vic­tory in Den­ver onMarch 4, Walker caused con­stant headaches for the Nuggets. He had 27 points while hit­ting 5- of- 9 shots from 3- point range. “We have to give him dif­fer­ent looks,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “Our guards have to ac­cept the chal­lenge of be­ing into him, and our bigs have to ac­cept the chal­lenge of be­ing ag­gres­sive.”

NOTE­BOOK Nuggets:

Darrell Arthur ( left knee sore­ness), Will Bar­ton ( left foot sore­ness) and Ma­son Plum­lee ( left ab­dom­i­nal con­tu­sion) are listed as ques­tion­able. Bar­ton and Plum­lee prac­ticed Thurs­day, but Arthur was not a par­tic­i­pant. … The Nuggets used an ex­tra day be­tween games to get ac­cli­mated to a two- game stretch that has them play­ing in both the Pa­cific and Eastern time zones within three days. The Nuggets stayed overnight in Port­land, Ore., on Tues­day and ar­rived in Charlotte at about 6 p. m. lo­cal timeWed­nes­day. “Hope­fully by Fri­day’s shootaround, we should feel like we’re not up against the clock with the time change,” Malone said.

Cen­ter Frank Kamin­sky, who missed Charlotte’s matchup in Den­ver onMarch 4 with a shoul­der in­jury that cost him five games, has av­er­aged 12.6 points in nine games since his re­turn. … The Hor­nets have won four of their last six games. … Charlotte hit 16- of- 27 3- point at­tempts ( 59.3 per­cent) in their win over the Nuggets four weeks ago. … With one more point, Walker will be­come the sec­ond player in Hor­nets his­tory to score 8,000 ca­reer points ( Dell Curry). Walker’s 219 3- point­ers this sea­son are sec­ond- most in team his­tory be­hind the 243 Jason Richard­son made dur­ing the 2007- 08 sea­son.


in the Nuggets’ quest for the post­sea­son. On March 4, the Nuggets were com­ing off back- to- back wins on the road against Chicago and Mil­wau­kee, an im­pres­sive stretch that had Den­ver­with a sea­son- high three- game cush­ion in race for the eighth spot.

Then came a head- scratch­ing 112102 home loss to Charlotte that opened a door the Trail Blaz­ers have since bar­reled through. And if the Nuggets want any chance of climb­ing their way back to the post­sea­son — their first trip since 2013 — it starts with knock­ing off the team that cre­ated their re­cent tum­ble.

“Charlotte is not go­ing to feel bad for us, and we shouldn’t feel bad for our­selves ei­ther,” Har­ris said. “We’ve just got to come out and be ready to play and get out of this los­ing streak.”

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