After extended homestand, Nuggets embark on 7-game trip
Road to the playoffs starts Friday against Northwest rival Utah
After more than two weeks of making the short commute to Pepsi Center, Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson is ready to take his show on the road.
“Personally, I’m a road-type player,” he said. “I like hearing boos and stuff like that. I’m ready for it, especially going to Utah and Chicago and places that have rowdy crowds. I love it.”
Lawson and the Nuggets will open a seven-game trip Friday night against the Utah Jazz at EnergySolutions Arena. While every game is important, the matchup carries significant playoff implications.
The Nuggets (26-21) are seventh in the Western Conference, a half-game ahead of Houston and one game ahead of the Jazz. Denver and Utah have split two games thus far, so Friday’s game will determine the tiebreaker should they finish tied at the end of the season.
“It’s going to be a big game,” Lawson said. “Both teams know it’s a big game. We need to get this win. We’re going to be ready for it.”
The upcoming trip comes on the heels of a 5-4 homestand that concluded with a dramatic 116-115 victory over the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday. Two of Denver's five victories came in overtime and five of the nine games were decided by three points or less.
“This homestand, we got through it,” coach George Karl said. “I think we got enough wins to be in a good place. When I looked at the schedule (in December), I saw this road trip and said we’re going to have to win three or four of those games. It’s basically the same game plan. To get in a good April position, we have to win three or four of these.”
Traditionally strong at home, the Nuggets have performed well on the road this season, going 11-9 away from Pepsi Center. They will face four sub-.500 teams on the trip.
“Road games, it takes a little more focus, more desire,” Denver forward Al Harrington said. “We just have to lock in. We can definitely do it. We’ve done it before. It’s going to be a good challenge. Just knock them down one at a time.”
Entering March, the Nuggets set a goal of winning 10 of 16 games in the month. So far, they are 7-4 with five games remaining.
Finding three more wins in the next week would go a long way toward maintaining position in a Western Conference playoff race that seems to get tighter by the day. One game separates fourth place from eighth and four games separate fourth from 11th.
“I didn’t expect anything different,” Karl said. “I was hoping we might be a game or two (better). I still think everybody’s still in that probationary period that if you lose four of five games …”
There was no need to complete the sentence. The implications were clear. With 19 games remaining, slumps are a luxury that few teams can afford.
The Nuggets are expected to be without reserve guard Rudy Fernandez for the remainder of the regular season because of continued problems with his lower back.
Fernandez, 26, will undergo surgery after his back flared up during Monday’s game against the Dallas Mavericks. He missed 12 games with a lower back strain before returning to play four games during Denver’s homestand.
Acquired from Dallas on Dec. 13, along with Corey Brewer, for a future second-round draft pick, Fernandez averaged 8.6 points and 2.4 assists in 31 games. A date for his surgery is yet to be determined.
On March 5, Nuggets guard Arron Afflalo calmly made three free throws with 0.5 seconds remaining to force overtime against the Sacramento Kings.
He was again in position to tie the game in the waning seconds Monday night against Detroit but missed a free throw to complete a three-point play. After being saved by JaVale McGee’s putback dunk, Afflalo talked about the reason behind the miss.
“Usually in those moment’s I’m so calm,” he said. “In the past, I’ve had time to calm down, relax and enjoy the moment. But I was still amped from the moment and didn’t really calm myself down.”
Afflalo finished with 23 points and is averaging 18.3 points while shooting .810 from the free-throw line over the past 16 games. For the season, Triple-A is .777 from the stripe.