Nuggets enter final 12 games with playoffs in their sights
The Denver Nuggets are down to the Decisive Dozen.
Twelve games. Six teams. Four playoff spots.
The schedule says it’s the regular season, but every day on the calendar carries playoff implications.
“The rhythm of the season is going to be extremely intense, but it’s also going to be fun,” Nuggets coach George Karl said Thursday. “It’s going to be what we need. This team needs the challenge of playing big-time games before we get into the playoffs. I think it will help us when we do get in the playoffs. And I feel very confident we will get in the playoffs.”
The Nuggets (29-25) will continue their pursuit of a ninth consecutive playoff appearance Friday night against the hard-charging Phoenix Suns at Pepsi Center.
Riding a three-game winning streak, the Suns (28-26) are one game behind the seventh-seeded Nuggets and the No. 8 Houston Rockets. Denver has two games remaining with both Phoenix and Houston.
“We have a lot of important games against teams that are right there with us,” Denver forward Danilo Gallinari said. “Houston, the back-to-back we have with them is going to be huge. So it’s going to be a nice stretch.”
Gallinari, Denver’s second-leading scorer, is hoping to join the action soon. He has been out since March 19 with a fractured left thumb, but could return for Monday’s home game against Golden State Warriors.
Gallinari was on the practice court Thursday playing 1-on-1 against members of the Nuggets coaching staff.
“I still have a lot of pain receiving the ball,” he said after the workout. “In a game, you get hit, you’ve got to push people and I haven’t been able to do that yet, so we’ll see when I can do that at practice.
“It’s been 16 days after I broke it. Usually they take three or four weeks to heal, but I’ve got to fight through it, no doubt. We’ve got 12, 11 games left, so I’ve got to come back as fast as possible.”
The Nuggets also are without forward Wilson Chandler (groin strain) and guard Rudy Fernandez (back surgery). Chandler is a game-time decision for Friday against Phoenix.
“We need to get Gallo and Wilson back on the court,” Karl said. “We need to get JaVale (McGee) more involved. I think it’s capable of getting done, but it’s going to be with games that have to be won.”
The Nuggets will play three of their next four games at Pepsi Center. The stretch comes after they went 3-4 on a seven-game road trip that kept them in the thick of the Western Conference playoff chase. Entering play Thursday, the Memphis Grizzles were the No. 5 seed, 1½ games ahead of Denver, while the Utah Jazz were 10th – just 1½ games behind the Nuggets.
“We did what we were supposed to do (on the road),” Karl said. “We got almost half the games and we’re still in control of our position. If we continue to play with intensity, I think we’ll continue to be in control of our position.”