Nuggets Know 'Door is Not Slammed' Even After Tough Loss to Heat
MIAMI – This is one of those weird, two-pronged moments.
On one hand, the Nuggets put a stellar, two-overtime effort on the American Airlines Arena court against the Miami Heat. On the other hand, they were dealt a 149-141 loss when the dust settled.
And that, in a playoff race, hurts.
Yet as the Nuggets continue on this season-long, seven-game road trip, they were heartened about the direction they seem to be headed. Wins are needed – they are in 10th in the Western Conference and 2 ½ games out of the eighth spot – but they feel more equipped to get them after taking the Heat to the brink in one of the most entertaining games of the season.
“It hurts,” forward Paul Millsap said. “We worked so hard. Go double overtime and end up losing the game. But, there’s still hope. We’ve still got a few more games on this road trip; games that we’ve got to get. But the door is not slammed yet. We’ve still got hope. We’ve just got to get out there and take care of business.”
There are 11 games left, so the winning has to start soon. But there is also opportunity to make up ground by beating teams right around them in the standings. Two games remain against Minnesota, which is occupying the eighth spot. And games against the Clippers – who are in ninth – and the Thunder are out there as well.
But the Nuggets must play those games similarly to what they did on Monday night in Miami. There was bounce in their step. There was energy in the basketball. There was effort all over the court.
But in the second overtime, Miami found out their formula had enough to finally break through. The Nuggets chased Miami’s shooters and ball-handlers all over the court for over 53 minutes. But in the second overtime, the Heat’s players broke free. James Johnson knocked down big 3-point shots, and had a drive-and-dunk late in the second overtime that all-but sealed matters. It was all part of his 31 points on the night.
The Nuggets had stellar performances of their own. There were four players with at least 22 points, led by Nikola Jokić’s 34 points and 14 rebounds. The two teams combined to make 38 3-pointers in the game.
“We can’t think about the loss now,” guard Jamal Murray said. “It’s over. We’re going to get some sleep and make sure you’re ready for the next game. You can’t think about this game too much. You’ve got to learn from it and move on.”
Wednesday’s game at Chicago is the last game on this road trip against a team with a record under .500.
“The best cure-all is to win a game,” Malone said. “It’s not going to be easy. Any game, with 11 games to go, is going to be a hard-fought game. Chicago is going to give us a (heckuva) game I’m sure as well. But you start the road trip off with an unacceptable loss, come in here and give yourselves a chance – that’s an improvement, obviously without the win. And now we have to go into Chicago and get a win. It’s a must-win mentality.”
Christopher Dempsey: email@example.com and @chrisadempsey on Twitter.