The Denver Nuggets have 13 games remaining in the 2016-17 regular season.
This team has been through a lot in 69 games. 28 different starting lineups, tied for the most in the league with Philadelphia, injuries, youth, and about everything in-between.
But Denver still finds themselves one game clear of the suddenly surging Portland Trail Blazers, who have won eight of their last ten and have a significantly easier schedule than Denver down the stretch, as the Nuggets can’t afford to keep piling up losses.
Regular season game No. 70 | Denver Nuggets (33-36) vs Houston Rockets (48-22)
Toyota Center, Houston, Texas | 6:00 PM MST | TV: Altitude
Defending the three
The Nuggets squandered a golden opportunity to top Houston Saturday as they caught the Rockets on one of their off-nights from distance.
The Rockets lead the league in three-point attempts per game at 40.4, nearly seven more than Cleveland, but have been feast or famine from deep all year. Houston shot just 5-24 (20.8 percent) from three in the win over Denver but found other ways to score the ball.
It’s unlikely that the Rockets will shoot the ball that poorly from three Monday.
Denver was, however, able to limit Nuggets-killer Ryan Anderson, who could only muster up ten points on 3-7 shooting from the field and 1-4 from three. Even with Kenneth Faried back in the lineup for a second straight game, Michael Malone stuck with the Mason Plumlee and Nikola Jokic duo up front. Juancho Hernangomez also saw time on Anderson.
Expect the Nuggets to stick with that pairing at the four and the five. On the season, Plumlee and Jokic have logged 77 minutes together since Plumlee was acquired from Portland prior to the trade deadline, have held opponents to just 99.6 points per 100 possessions and are a +25 plus-minus.
But Jokic and Faried also showed chemistry and defensive potential in the time they spent on the floor before Faried’s back started acting up. The Nuggets need to get back to playing those two together to start games so Plumlee can build up the trust required between him and Denver’s second unit on both ends of the floor, something they’ll need potentially in the playoffs but definitely next season.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Harden is the first NBA player to post 40-point triple-doubles on back-to-back nights. Haren had 40 points, ten rebounds and ten assists in the Rockets’ win over Denver Saturday, and 41, 14 and 11 in a loss to New Orleans Friday.
Denver is one game up on Portland for the eighth seed in the West, but the Trail Blazers are closing fast. Portland has won eight of their last ten and is riding the Jusuf Nurkic wave to some quality wins, the latest being a road victory in Miami on the second night of a back-to-back.
The Nuggets, in a sense, control their own destiny with the one-game lead, but Denver’s schedule down the stretch is significantly more difficult than Portland’s. Besides finishing with nine of their last 13 games on the road, the Nuggets are in Houston Monday, home against the Cavaliers Wednesday and then in Indiana for a matchup with the Pacers Friday. Meanwhile, Portland hosts Milwaukee, New York, and Minnesota and visits the Lakers before hosting Denver in nine days.
The Trail Blazers could rack up four more wins in just a week’s time.