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Denver Nuggets know they are running out of time in playoff chase

Dial the calendar back a month and the Denver Nuggets were 33-28 and owners of the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference playoff chase. However, after back-to-back losses to the playoff-bound Philadelphia 76ers (on Monday) and Toronto Raptors (last night) — coupled with other movement in the conference — Denver is now No. 10 in the West.

After the loss last night, Nuggets players and coach Michael Malone pointed to a variety of factors for the team’s recent downturn. As Gina Mizell of The Denver Post reports, the Nuggets know that they have just a handful of games to either make the playoffs or start planning their summer:

“It’s the same story over and over. … We have seven games to go. Every (darn) play matters,” Malone said. “And right now, we’re not playing like every play matters. We’re playing like we have 30 games to go in the season, and I cannot explain that. It was unacceptable.”

Nikola Jokic flirted with a triple-double with 29 points, 16 rebounds and eight assists and Paul Millsap added 20 points on 9-of-12 shooting. But Malone pinpointed too many possessions where the Nuggets overdribbled into a crowd and took an ill-advised shot.

“When a guy has the hot hand going, there’s no need to come down and take a pull-up 3 off of no ball movement,” Malone said. “Get the ball to the hot man. The way the basketball gods work, if you give the ball up, the ball’s gonna find you. Tonight, we didn’t have enough examples of that.”

And though the Nuggets have preached a mentality of focusing solely on the next game throughout this late-season playoff push, Jamal Murray can feel those hopes slipping away.

“That’s the hard part — saying ‘Next game,’ ” said Murray, who went 6-of-18 from the floor for 15 points in his return to his hometown. “There’s so many games (in a season), but we only have seven left. We’ve got to do it now. We’ve got to do it next game. If not next game, then we’re in trouble.”

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