Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr broached the possibility of a letdown game Monday in Indiana, where his team would play the final contest in its five-game, 11-day road trip.
Defensive linchpin Draymond Green was held out to rest a variety of aches and pains, Kevin Durant missed 14 of 21 shots, and the Warriors still rolled to their 11th straight win as Stephen Curry scored 26 points in 26 minutes and DeMarcus Cousins added 22 in 25.
"We've been more dialed in the last month than we have for sure all season, and for much of last season," Kerr said after the 132-100 final. "You can just see, turnovers are down and guys are moving the ball. We're in a good place. Just gotta keep it going."
Given their upcoming schedule, it seems almost impossible that they won't.
Indeed, with seven of their next nine at home, the Warriors could push their streak up to 20 without too much trouble before they head back out on the road for a four-game swing beginning Feb. 25.
The toughest date before then is a road game in Portland on Feb. 13, the final contest before the All-Star break. But with the NBA's best road record at 18-8, the Warriors will certainly like their chances.
Otherwise, their other road game over that span is against the lowly Suns, while just two of their seven home opponents — Miami (13-11) and Utah (14-13) — have winning away records.
If they can take care of all that business, the Warriors would have their second 20-game winning streak in four-plus seasons — their 28-win run spanned the 2014-15 and 2015-16 campaigns — but only the sixth in NBA history.
And at this point, with Klay Thompson emerging from his season-long slump and Cousins quickly settling into the Warriors' quad All-Star lineup, it would be foolish to bet against them.
While the Warriors averted their letdown game, the Denver Nuggets very nearly did not, falling behind by 25 points midway through the third quarter to a Memphis Grizzlies squad languishing 14 games behind them in the standings.
Then, pure magic. Having cut the lead to 17 points entering the fourth, they outscored the Grizzlies 35-15 over the final 12 minutes — including two go-ahead buckets in the last 43.9 seconds — to steal a 95-92 victory.
Nikola Jokic muscled his way inside to finish a tough leaner over Marc Gasol that put the Nuggets ahead for good at 93-92.
But it was Will Barton's 3-pointer on the previous possession that gave the Nuggets their first lead, albeit briefly, and triggered a moment of pure, unadulterated joy. (If Barton had yelled any louder, he just might have broken his jaw.)
"We were not ready to play tonight, and that was very evident," Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. "But we stayed with it. That's a lot of character. You're down 70-45, and you don't give up ... that bodes well for our future."
"We started playing together. We started to play for each other," added Jokic, who continued his All-Star push with 24 points. "Even when they were scoring, we didn't give up. It was one hell of a comeback for us."
One of their best ever, to be exact. The 17-point deficit tied for the largest Denver has erased entering the fourth quarter. (And that doesn't take into account that the Nuggets immediately fell behind by 19.)
Keeping pace with the Warriors atop the West standings will be almost impossible. But victories like this could be crucial as the Nuggets battle Oklahoma City, Portland and anyone else that can wedge their way into the mix for the No. 2 spot.
As for the Grizzlies, who continue to plummet after their hot start, it only adds fuel to speculation that they'll move Gasol and/or fellow mainstay Mike Conley Jr. and enter a full-blown rebuild.
"They're going to do what they think is best for the franchise," Gasol said. "I told them I wanted to stay. Either way, they're going to do what they have to do, and you have to respect that."
Known far more for his silky shooting touch, Thompson continued his recent assault on the rim with an aggressive slam against the Pacers.
The best part, however, was another Shaqtin' moment from Curry as he celebrated — or more accurately, tried to celebrate — on the bench. Watch closely ...
"(Thompson's dunk) was phenomenal," Curry said. "He started an earthquake situation or something. I succumbed to it on the sideline. "
It came only days after his now-infamous wipeout against the Lakers while loading up for a dunk of his own.
As much as we enjoy these brief moments of vulnerability, Curry was quickly back to his invincible self as he blowtorched the Pacers for six 3-pointers in his point-a-minute outing.
In doing so, he surpassed 200 3s for the seventh straight campaign, briefly extending his own NBA record. (Barring an injury or epic slump, Thompson will join him later this season.)
Stephen Curry, who hit all five of his three-point attempts in the first half tonight, now has 202 three-pointers on the season, becoming the first player in NBA history to hit at least 200 threes in seven consecutive seasons.— Warriors PR (@WarriorsPR) January 29, 2019
Curry also took yet another moment to do something nice for one of his many fans.
Steph signed his shoes for a Warriors fan in Indiana 🙌 pic.twitter.com/86AvaIi5rE— ESPN (@espn) January 29, 2019
The Boston Celtics rejected 16 shots by the Brooklyn Nets, their most since at least 1983-84 per Basketball Reference. Six of those swats came from veteran center Al Horford, who put up a line not seen from a Celtic since The Chief, Robert Parish, in 1986:
Get well soon
Oladipo has already vowed to come back "better than ever" from the ruptured quad tendon he had surgically repaired on Monday. His team gave him a nice little lift as he prepares to undertake that quest:
The Pacers have one of these on every seat tonight in Indianapolis. pic.twitter.com/DZnmVtHir6— Nick Friedell (@NickFriedell) January 28, 2019