Game Preview: Nuggets Looking for Win to Finish Off Long Road Trip
OKLAHOMA CITY – A loose and jovial Nuggets team took the practice court at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City on Thursday night, a day in advance of one very large game against the Thunder on Friday night.
There is pressure on this, and all of these games down the stretch. But the Nuggets are doing their best to keep any stress that comes along with desperately trying to qualify for the playoffs at bay.
“I think we’re to the point where you’ve just got to play,” forward Paul Millsap said. “We’ve got to play free. We’ve got to play our style of basketball. We can’t play uptight. We can’t play with pressure. And that’s how we came out today (in practice). Guys attitudes are in the right place. We’re still out here, busting our butts. So, get out there and apply it to the game.”
Friday’s contest is the last of a seven-game road trip that has covered a whopping 6,700 miles in 15 days. The Nuggets are 2-4 on the trip so far, but are looking to snap a two-game skid with what would be their third win this season over the Thunder. Oklahoma City comes into the game on the second of a back-to-back, losing at San Antonio on Thursday night.
The Nuggets still have playoff hopes on their minds. But they have work to do, and need some help. At 40-35, they find themselves in 10th in the Western Conference, one game behind the L.A. Clippers in ninth, and two games behind the Utah Jazz, which sits in the eighth – and final – playoff position.
“It’s a very fine line right now,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “Seven games to go, and we all understand the importance of not only every game, but the point I’ve been trying to get across to our guys lately is every possession. You lose a close game like the one in Toronto, and it didn’t just come down to the last quarter, it comes down to the three, four, five mistakes we make in the first half. That’s a difference of 10, 12 points, let’s say.
“So, you want them to understand the urgency and the importance and value of every possession. But you also know full well that they can’t go out there and play tight. They can’t go out there and play like ‘Oh my god we’ve got to win. I’ve got to make this shot.’ Then, you’ve got no chance. … We’re a group that still believes. It’s not going to be easy. We have seven games to go against all quality opponents. It’s not easy, but you want to be in these situations. All I stressed to our guys is this: The goal we gave ourselves is still attainable. Is it going to be hard? You’re damn right it’s going to be hard. Seven games to go, two games out; we have to start helping ourselves.”
The Nuggets will not have starting point guard Gary Harris, the team’s second-leading scorer, for this game. He’s missed every game of the road trip due to a right knee sprain/strain. But while his services have been missed, the team is not fretting.
“I love the fact that our group is still together,” Malone said. “They are still positive, no one is hanging their heads, no one is giving up.”
Christopher Dempsey: email@example.com and @chrisadempsey on Twitter.