Despite end of streak, Nuggets remain in prime position
Denver still in chase for No. 3 seed heading into road game against San Antonio
After dropping their third straight game heading into the All-Star break, the Denver Nuggets trailed the Memphis Grizzlies by a game-and-a-half in the race for home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
The No. 3 seed in the Western Conference wasn’t much of a consideration, because the Nuggets were five games behind the Los Angeles Clippers – winners of four straight.
Had someone approached Nuggets coach George Karl and said Denver would win 16 of its first 18 games after the break, he would have signed the contract every time.
Sometimes after a loss, it’s good to step back and gain some perspective.
The Nuggets (49-23) saw their franchise record-tying 15-game winning streak end with a 110-86 loss Monday night in New Orleans.
Despite the setback, they are still 25-5 since Jan. 20 and 38-11 since Dec. 14 – a stretch that has put them a half-game ahead of the Clippers for the No. 3 spot and a game ahead of fifth-place Memphis.
The stress of maintaining that competitive edge started to show during two wobbly wins against Philadelphia and Sacramento. It finally caught up with Denver in New Orleans, as the Hornets were the more determined team from start to finish.
“This league has a way of humbling anybody who doesn’t have the right karma or the right approach to playing basketball,” Karl said after the loss. “I’m not saying we’re in a bad place right now. I just think the last three games we haven’t been the committed team I think we need to be.”
Denver owns the tiebreaker against the Grizzlies, and its schedule appears to be more favorable down the stretch. The Nuggets play six of their final 10 games at home, where they are a league-best 32-3; Los Angeles and Memphis both have seven of their final 12 on the road.
The Nuggets also would benefit from the return of starting point guard Ty Lawson, who has missed the past three games with a strained/bruised right heel.
Lawson, who leads the team in scoring and assists, is listed as a game-time decision for Wednesday’s game at San Antonio.
“He’s very important to us because he makes everyone else fit,” Karl said.
When Lawson plays, Karl has the luxury of bringing veteran point guard Andre Miller off the bench. Miller has been excellent at orchestrating the offense with athletic reserves Corey Brewer, Wilson Chandler and JaVale McGee.
Even if Lawson returns to the lineup, the Nuggets will need a better overall effort against the Spurs than they gave in New Orleans. The Hornets connected on 14-of-25 3-pointers and had 17 offensive rebounds that led to 19 second-chance points.
“We need to move on to the next game,” Miller said. “We played a bad game, and they played a great game.”
Sometimes it’s as simple as that. No need to overanalyze it.
The Nuggets remain in better position than they were five weeks ago.
A snapshot of one defeat does little to distort the big picture.
NUGGETS AT SPURS
WHEN: 6:30 p.m. MT
WHERE: AT&T Center, San Antonio
TV; RADIO: Altitude; 104.3 FM, AM-950
F Kawhi Leonard
F Tim Duncan
C Tiago Splitter
G Danny Green
G Tony Parker
DENVER: Ty Lawson (heel) is a game-time decision; Julyan Stone (knee) is out.
SAN ANTONIO: No injuries to report.
Denver has won four of the last eight games at the AT&T Center … Denver has played well in San Antonio in recent years, having gone 7-10 since 2004-05 … Denver has lost eight out of 11 overall games to the Spurs (four of those coming in Denver) … The Nuggets have lost four of their last six home games to San Antonio … By going 0-2 at home and 2-0 on the road against the Spurs in 2009-10, it marked only the second time in team history that a season series finished with those results – the other being 1994-95 against the Lakers … San Antonio actually has a winning record in Denver over the last 21 years – having gone 30-17 since the 1989-90 season … The most points Denver has ever scored in a half as a member of the NBA came at San Antonio on 11/7/90, scoring 90 in the first half … On the flipside, the fewest points Denver has ever scored in a half also came in San Antonio on 11/27/02, tying a team record with 22 points in the first half, including a team record low three points in the first quarter … The Spurs have put up big numbers against the Nuggets themselves, setting a team record with 91 points in the second half at Denver on 1/11/84, including a team best 53 in the fourth quarter alone.