As the race for the eighth seed tightens, Nuggets rise to the occasion

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The Denver Nuggets came into the second game of a back to back against the Sacramento Kings desperately looking to hold onto their lead for the eighth seed in the Western Conference. By the end of the night, Denver won a must-win game 105-92 against the Kings on a night that all three of the Timberwolves, Mavericks, and Trail Blazers had lost and extended their lead for the eighth seed by an additional game.

Denver came out looking assertive and hitting shots but the overall energy felt minimal being that Denver played the night prior. Danilo Gallinari and Gary Harris did a good job of finding their own shots and hitting them while Nikola Jokic gobbled up nine rebounds in the first quarter alone. The Nuggets second unit did a good job of running shooters off of their spots and closing out hard. Denver's defensive effort held Sacramento to just 31.6 percent shooting and just eight total rebounds in the first quarter as the Nuggets took a lead of 25-19 into the second quarter.

The second unit did a good job of playing with energy while everyone contributed to the scoring and helped push Denver's lead to 14 despite getting beaten badly on the boards without Jokic on the floor. Plumlee was all over the floor and, in his first stint, contributed four points, four points, and four assists in about eight minutes. Juancho Hernangomez also added in two made three-pointers off of the bench.

The starting unit returned but the offense continued to play stagnant and tired. Thanks to the defensive effort of the Nuggets combined with the Kings being ice cold from the field Denver was able to extend a lead behind the scoring of Gary Harris and Jokic. Buddy Hield hit a layup before halftime and the Nuggets went into the halftime break with a lead of 54-44.

Out of halftime, Denver's offense was still lacking movement and aggression outside of Jokic and Harris, who was scoring in a variety of ways. Hield took advantage of Denver's dysfunction after halftime and scored five points to start the second half and Denver's lead fell to just two points.

Denver continued to play sluggish on both ends of the ball to start the second half but Harris had a monster put-back slam that seemed to invigorate the Nuggets as the Denver lead became ten points. Harris and Plumlee began building some on-court chemistry and hooked up for a pair of beautiful cutting layups for Harris off the perfectly timed feeds from Plumlee. Harris and Plumlee became the duo that allowed Denver to withstand their anemic offense that started the second half and led Denver to a lead going into the final quarter. Eventually, the Nuggets went into the fourth quarter with a lead of 77-67. Plumlee finished the night with eight points, seven rebounds, and eight assists.

It seemed that Denver playing their second night in a row caught up with them to start the fourth quarter as the lead dwindled to just two points after a strong finish by Tyreke Evans. Malone elected to insert Jokic back into the game two minutes earlier than normal hoping to get the game back under control.

Instead of Jokic taking control it was Jamal Murray's three that got Denver back on track. He was showing off his ability to get to the foul line, hit tough shots at the rim, and showed off his infinite shooting range and finished with 13 points on 5-9 shooting. What was even more special about Murray's game was not the stats he put up but how it directly made Denver a better team. He elevated the overall play and it was that spurt that gave the Nuggets the energy spike they needed to hold onto the victory. Murray finished with a +9 on the night.

Denver came into Sacramento after playing the night prior and came away with a victory in a must-win game. They staved off every run that the Kings could throw at them and won 105-92 behind Jokic's 20 points and 14 rebounds and Harris's 24 points three rebounds, two assists, and two steals.

Playoff outlook

All three of the Minnesota Timberwolves, Dallas Mavericks, and Portland Trail Blazers played tonight.

Minnesota lost to the Bucks by seven.

Dallas lost to the Suns on a buzzer beater by Devin Booker.

Portland lost to the Wizards on a controversial no-call that was not reviewable that resulted in a Marcus Morris jump shot that doomed the Trail Blazers.

Denver now has a full two game lead on the Portland Trail Blazers while the Mavericks are now three full games away. Minnesota has fallen to a full four games out of the playoffs.


Kenneth Faried missed another game with a back injury but did go through pregame warmups before Denver took on Sacramento. Faried getting involved in basketball activities is a big step to his eventual return to the rotation. Wilson Chandler started in his spot and finished with six points and four rebounds.

What's next

Denver returns home to take on the Los Angeles Lakers at the Pepsi Center on Monday night looking for their third straight victory before entering one of the toughest stretches of their schedule of the season.

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