News goes from bad to worse for shorthanded Nuggets

Their leading scorer walked out of the arena with the aid of crutches and a walking boot.

Their starting center, starting shooting guard and starting power forward were already out with various injuries.

One of their key reserves was away from the team to tend to a family matter.

The 2011-12 season is quickly becoming a physical and mental test for the Denver Nuggets.

Trying to persevere without Arron Afflalo (sprained ankle), Timofey Mozgov (sprained ankle), Nene (strained heel) and Corey Brewer (personal reasons), the Nuggets lost Danilo Gallinari to a sprained left ankle in the second half of a 99-90 loss to the Houston Rockets on Monday night.

Subsequent X-rays revealed a chip fracture in Gallinari’s foot. Further tests are scheduled for Tuesday, and there is no timetable for his return.

“I am worried, but injuries happen,” said Gallinari, who is averaging a team-leading 17 points per game. “I’m not happy it happened to me. I wanted to play (after the injury) and I wanted to win this game more than anything. I’ll be out … I don’t know how long.”

Even shorthanded, the Nuggets were in position to pull out a victory in the fourth quarter. Trailing by four, Al Harrington was unable to convert two free throws and Chase Budinger hit Houston’s 10th three-pointer of the game to put the Rockets up with a minute left.

Denver finished 19-for-33 from the free-throw line, 3-for-22 from three-point range and committed 20 turnovers that led to 17 Rockets points.

“If we would have pulled it out, it would have been an incredible win for us, but it’s still a very disappointing loss,” Nuggets coach George Karl said. “No one is going to feel sorry for us except ourselves, and if we feel too sorry for ourselves, we’re not going to bounce back.”

While Gallinari and Mozgov are out indefinitely, Afflalo and Nene could return to the lineup as soon as Wednesday against the defending NBA champion Dallas Mavericks.

The Nuggets (15-10) have lost three straight and will be trying to avoid their first four-game losing streak in nearly five years (Feb. 14-24, 2007).

“It is mental,” forward Al Harrington said. “We’ve got to be mentally tougher and find a way to get one. It’s only three (losses in a row). It’s not like it’s six or something crazy. We can come in and talk about some things, regroup and go get one Wednesday.”

Harrington finished with 12 points and a season-high 15 rebounds for Denver, while fellow reserve Chris Andersen added 10 points and nine rebounds.

Rookies Kenneth Faried and Julyan Stone also provided the Nuggets with some good minutes in their first career starts. Faried finished with six points and eight rebounds in 18 minutes, while Stone had two points and four rebounds in 21 minutes.

“There was a lot of emotion. I was kind of nervous,” Faried said. “I just tried to get the jitters out. In the second half, I think I pulled it together, started doing what I usually do, rebound, play hard and defend. At first, I was kind of shaky, kind of scared. After that, it was, ‘All right, time to play.’ ”

When Faried drew a foul on Kevin Martin late in the third quarter, and Harrington scored on a putback a few minutes later, it looked as though the Nuggets would find the energy necessary to pull out a victory.

Budinger, however, hit a three-pointer at the buzzer to give the Rockets a two-point lead heading to the fourth, and Houston never trailed again.

“Any time you can get a win on the road, it’s huge,” Budinger said. “Definitely with all the injuries the Nuggets have, we felt more confident coming in here and trying to get that win.”

The Nuggets have now dropped three straight home games for the first time since the 2006-07 season and are 7-5 at Pepsi Center.

“We’ve got to get this monkey off our back and stop losing games,” Faried said. “I think we’re going to pull it together because we’re a great team and everybody’s tuned in to win. We’re going to stay focused and keep grinding.”

With an unforgiving schedule that includes another set of back-to-back games Wednesday and Thursday, the Nuggets really have no other choice.