DENVER - The Denver Nuggets are looking to kill two birds with one stone against the Sacramento Kings tonight at the Pepsi Center. Denver needs to continue playing well at home and regain their control on the eighth seed in the Western Conference. Beating Sacramento tonight will accomplish both as well as finally give Michael Malone the satisfaction of defeating his former team.
Regular season game No. 63 | Denver Nuggets (28-34) @ Sacramento Kings (25-37)
As the playoff race begins to tighten with just 20 games left in the season, the Nuggets now find themselves in need of a win over the Kings, who Denver lost to in the first game out of the All-Star break. Michael Malone still has not beaten Sacramento since he was fired two-and-a-half years ago.
"We have yet to beat (Sacramento) since I have been here and the first game out of the break they kicked our butts and they played with purpose," Malone said. "Tonight is a chance to try and get that game back."
With the Kings, Trail Blazers, Timberwolves, and Mavericks all breathing down the Nuggets' neck, it seems that the matchup with the Kings is now a must-win game. Only three losses separate the 8 and the 12 seeds in the West and if Denver is to continue leading the race for a playoff berth, then beating the Kings, who are vying to grab the eighth seed themselves, is a necessity. The playoffs are on the line and if Denver wants to be there they need to win at home at all costs.
"I think our players understand what is at stake. I really do. I think that we have some tired players, as does everyone else in the NBA, but we need to find a way to fight through that," Malone said. "Mental fatigue and physical fatigue. If our players do not know what is at stake right now then we have no shot. We talked about it before we went into shootaround today. We have a 20 game season. That's it. 20 game season. Does not matter what happened before. We have a game and a half cushion and we control our destiny. What we do with that is going to be really interesting to see. "
Regardless if Nikola Jokic plays against the Kings or not, expect a bigger role from Mason Plumlee. With the Nuggets struggling on the offensive glass over the past few games, Malone has said that he wants to play Plumlee and Jokic together more often.
"I need to try to play Mason and Nikola a little bit more together. It is something that I have gotten away from the past couple of games," Malone explained. "When they are on the court together you have two facilitating big men. Two physical guys and two excellent rebounders and playmakers on the offensive end."
The Nuggets are currently a game-and-a-half ahead of the Portland Trail Blazers for the eighth seed in the Western Conference and just two games ahead of the surging Dallas Mavericks. Sacramento and Minnesota are both three games back. Denver will look to pad their lead over the Kings tonight at the Pepsi Center while Portland takes on the Timberwolves in Minnesota. The Mavericks do not play Monday.
Kenneth Faried will miss the game against the Sacramento Kings as his back spasms continue to keep him out. He is improving as was upgraded to doubtful the day before the matchup with the Kings but Malone described him as in "rough shape" before the loss to the Hornets. Expect Wilson Chandler to continue starting in his place.
Jokic made a surprise appearance on the injury report ahead of Monday's tilt with Sacramento. The 22-year-old is sick and was sent home from shootaround this morning. Jokic is questionable Monday and if he can't play, expect Plumlee to slide into the starting lineup.