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Nuggets Welcome Time to Regroup for Stretch Run After Loss in Toronto
The Nuggets will take the next two days and simply heal – both mentally and physically. And, on both fronts, it will be a welcome break after faltering in the fourth quarter of a 114-110 loss to Toronto on Tuesday night at the Air Canada Centre.
On Friday, Nuggets coach Michael Malone hopes to get past issues of fatigue and get a full, energized and attentive effort at Oklahoma City.
“Right now, the urgency that we need to have, supersedes the fatigue factor,” Malone said. “Be mentally tough and find a way. It’s not going to be easy in any of these last seven games, but we have to find ways to fight through that fatigue, mentally and physically.”
Why? Because it’s getting to be crunch time. The Nuggets have lost consecutive games and are now in 10th in the Western Conference, facing the task of finishing ahead of the L.A. Clippers and either one of the two occupants of final two playoff spots – Utah in seventh and Minnesota in eighth.
“Every win right now is so vital for our season,” Malone said.
Thankfully for the Nuggets there is just one game left on their season-long seven-game road trip. But that one is a challenge – at Oklahoma City, which has been playing good basketball in recent weeks. The Nuggets are 2-5 so far on this trip so far.
“We only have seven games left,” guard Jamal Murray said. “We’ve got to figure it out, and figure it out now.”
And what’s the biggest fix?
“It’s just effort,” Murray said. “It’s just effort.”
The Nuggets ran out of gas in the fourth quarter against the Raptors. They entered with an 85-82 lead, but that quickly evaporated under the intense pressure of Toronto’s defense. The Nuggets stretched the lead to 90-82 early in the period, but the Raptors hit them with a 23-6 run, and took a nine-point lead that the Nuggets never recovered from.
“The crowd was on their side,” center Nikola Jokić said. “Maybe they were (more) aggressive.”
Jokić played nearly every minute of the second half and finished with big numbers – 29 points, 16 rebounds and eight assists. Paul Millsap had 20 points as well. But it was detail items getting away from them – blocking out, closing out properly, etc. – that frustrated Malone most. He wants those cleaned up for what is proving to be a frantic finish in the West’s playoff race.
“We have played really well in stretches (Monday night) and tonight against two of the better teams in the Eastern Conference, so that’s a positive,” Malone said. “But we have yet to play a 48-minute game against an elite Eastern Conference team, and that’s what you need to win on the road against these types of teams.”
Malone spoke of some “very honest film sessions” being on the horizon. And then, “get back on the practice floor and continue to work and find ways to get better,” he said. “By no means is the season over. Seven games of basketball is a lot of games.”
Christopher Dempsey: firstname.lastname@example.org and @chrisadempsey on Twitter.