Nuggets not giving up hope in playo≠ quest
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.”
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.”