Coach Malone Looking for Nuggets to Finish Season the "Right Way"
MIAMI – The unknowns, as the NBA regular season winds to its conclusion, remain plentiful. But Nuggets coach Michael Malone wants one thing to be certain: He wants his team ending the season in as strong a fashion as it possibly can.
“Compete,” Malone said. “Find a group of guys that’s will to go out there and compete. These games matter. Anything can happen, but I’m not worried about playoffs right now. I’m worried about us finishing the right way.”
That starts in Miami, where the Nuggets face the Heat on Sunday in the third of a five-game road trip. The Heat will be ready. Miami is in a competitive playoff race of its own, tied record-wise with Indiana, though tiebreakers have it in the seventh position in the Eastern Conference. Both Miami and Indiana are just a half-game ahead of the Chicago Bulls, who are pressing for playoff inclusion.
Meanwhile, the Nuggets are watching a potential change in the landscape around them. As of Saturday afternoon, Portland remained two games ahead in the race for the last spot in the Western Conference, but the Blazers also suffered a big loss when center Jusuf Nurkić went down with a fractured fibula in their game on Thursday night. He’ll miss the rest of the season. The big man has been a huge reason why the Trail Blazers had been basically the hottest team in the NBA for the last month.
Now, they’ll have to figure it out without him.
For that reason and more, Malone wants his team to continue try and apply pressure.
“If we do finish the right way, maybe other things happen and we give ourselves a chance,” Malone said. “I want to find guys that when everything looks bleak, who is going to go out there and play anyway. … Going forward, I will find a group of five guys, vets or young guys, whoever it may be, to go out there and play and play as hard as possible.”
The Nuggets are dealing with injuries could impact who is available for Sunday’s game. Guard Will Barton (foot) did not play at Charlotte. His status for Sunday is to be determined. Forward Darrell Arthur (knee) did not play at Charlotte either, and his status is to be determined.
Point guard Jameer Nelson said his status for Sunday’s game against the Miami Heat remains to be seen. He’s not ruled himself out after suffering a strained right calf in the Nuggets’ game at Charlotte on Friday night, but isn’t sure if he’ll be able to go, either.
“I’m not a doctor,” he said after the game. “I tried to run through it, play through it for a couple of possessions and it just started getting tighter. Hopefully by next game it loosens up. Other than (the calf injury) I felt good out there.”
Nelson left the game in the third quarter with 12 points and nine assists. Rookie Jamal Murray played point guard during the remainder of Friday night’s game. If Nelson can’t play, Emmanuel Mudiay is the only remaining true point guard left, and Murray has played significant minutes at point guard all season long.