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Danilo Gallinari proving reliable in the clutch for Nuggets

Denver forward among league's top scorers in crunch time


Long shots require short memories.

Nobody knows that better than Denver Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari.

Despite missing 7 of 8 shots from 3-point range Tuesday night, Gallinari showed no fear with the game hanging in the balance. He knocked down consecutive 3s in the game’s final 6 minutes as Denver held on to beat the San Antonio Spurs.

“Gallinari ripped our hearts out,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said.

The Spurs weren’t the first team this season to be victimized by Gallinari’s willingness to take the big shot in crunch time.

On Dec. 11 against Detroit, his 3-pointer with 1:48 gave the Nuggets a seven-point lead after the Pistons made a late charge at The Palace.

On Nov. 19 against Memphis, Gallinari hit a 3-pointer with 12.7 seconds left to put Denver ahead by four points in a road victory over the Grizzlies.

On Nov. 10 against Golden State, Gallinari buried the go-ahead 3-pointer with 35.9 seconds remaining as Denver beat the Warriors in double-overtime.

“He’s not afraid of the moment,” Nuggets coach Melvin Hunt said. “He wants those shots. Yeah, sometimes you’re going to be the goat. But, boy, think about those times when you’re not the goat. It’s worth it.”

The Nuggets have plenty of late-game options and don’t get caught up in argument that they need a “closer,” but Gallinari accepts the challenge when called upon.

According to NBA Stats, he ranks fifth in the league in scoring when his team is ahead or trailing by 5 points or less and under 5 minutes remaining. He is shooting 40 percent (6-of-15) from 3-point range and 83 percent (15-of-18) from the free-throw line in those situations.

“Life is only one. It’s too short to not try to do those things in the clutch moments,” Gallinari said. “I love basketball. I live for basketball. If somebody is not ready to take those shots, they have to change jobs. You have to be ready to take those shots.

“With the confidence and trust this franchise has in me, I want to give back to them by being ready in those situations.”

After struggling with his shot early in the season, Gallinari appears to be finding his rhythm. Over the past four games, he is averaging 21 points on .527 shooting (29-for-55). He has raised his field-goal percentage from 37.4 to 40.3 during that stretch.

Hunt said Gallinari’s effort on defense has helped spark him at the other end of the floor.

“It gets you involved in the game, gets your feel going and it helps on the offensive end,” Hunt said. “The last couple games, he’s been aggressive on both ends and he’s getting the results. He’s starting find a little bit of a groove.”

Gallinari and the Nuggets will try to keep their momentum going Thursday night against the Portland Trail Blazers. Denver has won three straight games and will be seeking to move three gamesabove .500 for the first time this season.


NUGGETS AT TRAIL BLAZERS


WHEN:
8:30 p.m. MT
WHERE: Rose Garden, Portland
TV; RADIO: Altitude; 104.3 FM, AM-950

PROBABLE STARTERS
DENVER

F Danilo Gallinari
F Kenneth Faried
C Kosta Koufos
G Andre Iguodala
G Ty Lawson

PORTLAND
F Nicolas Batum
F LaMarcus Aldridge
C JJ Hickson
G Sasha Pavlovic
G Damian Lillard

INJURY REPORT
DENVER:
Wilson Chandler (hip) and Julyan Stone (hip) are out.
PORTLAND: Aldridge (ankle) and Wesley Matthews (hip) are questionable. Elliott Williams (Achilles' tendon) is out.

SERIES NOTES
The Nuggets have fared extremely well in Portland in recent years, having gone 9-11 at the Rose Garden since the 2002-03 season … Denver is an impressive 24-11 (.686) overall against the Trail Blazers since 2003-04, with eight of the Blazers’ 11 wins coming in the past four seasons … The Nuggets have won the season series against Portland in six of their last 10 years … Denver and Portland both registered 50+ wins in 2010-11 and 2011-12 – prior to these last two years, the last time both teams finished with 50+ wins during the same season had been 1987-88 (Denver 54 and Portland 53)