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With Win Over Clippers, Nuggets Playing Most Effective Ball of Season
LOS ANGELES – The Nuggets want to get to the playoffs, a place they haven’t been in five years. To get there, they’re starting to do things they’ve never done.
Five straight wins is a number that had eluded them all season long. Streaks of that length almost always require the team to have won a road game or two, and that just hasn’t been a team strength.
The Nuggets have rung up their first five-game winning streak of the season. All it took was a 134-115 takedown of the Los Angeles Clippers at the Staples Center on Saturday afternoon. And that required the Nuggets to win their fourth road game in their last six away from Denver.
The Nuggets are turning it up right when they need to. Successful playoff pushes call for a team to peak in April. The Nuggets, for the first time in five years, are doing that. Everything hasn’t been perfect, but they have all been wins.
“We’re playing get it done basketball,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “We’re getting it done.”
This string of wins has featured stellar – and clutch – play in the fourth quarter.
- On March 30 in Oklahoma City, Mason Plumlee’s block on a Jerian Grant layup in overtime with six seconds to go helped seal the Nuggets’ first win in this streak.
- On April 1 in Denver, Jamal Murray’s steal, personal foul drawn, and three clutch free throws with two seconds to play tied the game up and sent it to overtime. Malik Beasley hit two pressurized free throws of his own in overtime to seal that game.
- On April 5 in Denver, Jamal Murray draws a huge foul on Minnesota star Karl-Anthony Towns – fouling him out – with 1:46 to play. Murray’s free throws gave the Nuggets a lead they’d never relinquish in getting the win.
“Right now, for us, we’re finding ways to get the job done,” Malone said. “We’re making enough plays. Improbable wins against at OKC and Milwaukee. Tough, grind it out games against Milwaukee and Minnesota. Tonight, we kind of held the lead throughout.”
Saturday’s was the most comfortable of the bunch. They led by as many as 21 points. With just under two minutes to play, Clippers coach Doc Rivers pulled all of his starters and waved the white flag on the game and their season. There would be no heart-pounding finishes on this day.
Will Barton was brilliant from start-to-finish in racking up 31 points on 11-of-15 shooting. He hit five 3-pointers in the process. And he was consistent, scoring 16 points in the first half and following that up with 15 more in the second half.
“I just wanted to be aggressive from the start and put pressure on their defense,” Barton said. “Once I did that, I figured out what I could get, whether I was getting to the rim, pull-up jumpers and pull-up threes. Once I got into a rhythm, I just figured out what they were trying to do and tried to exploit it.”
The Nuggets played efficient half court offense and got out in transition when they needed to, shooting 62.4 percent from the field. Murray played a good all-around floor game, and Nikola Jokic turned in his ninth triple-double of the season with 23 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists. Seven Nuggets scored in double figures.
So, are the Nuggets playing their best basketball of the season?
“I think overall,” said forward Paul Millsap. “Offensively, defensively, controlling our turnovers. I think it’s our best overall basketball. Not necessarily the best offense that we’ve played all year. Not necessarily the best defense. But to be a really good team you have to have good balance. And I think, especially coming down the stretch, we have good balance on offense and defense. And that’s what we need.”
The type of basketball playoff teams are made of?
“No question,” he said. “When we get there. Hopefully we get there. We’ll see. I think these young guys are anxious to get there and see what playoff basketball is about.”
Christopher Dempsey: firstname.lastname@example.org and @chrisadempsey on Twitter