Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: coming off a terrible loss to a tanking team, the Denver Nuggets need a “come to Jesus” moment if they are going to salvage this next stretch and stay in the playoff hunt. The win they need tonight is against both the Miami Heat and the South Beach nightlife, neither of which are tanking.
After butchering the opening game of a seven-game road trip that will likely decide Denver’s position in either the playoffs or the lottery, the Nuggets need to make up ground and win a game they are scheduled to lose. Denver has enough of these nightmare losses this year to fill a season-long horror show, but its lack of urgency in correcting the flaws that lead to them somehow remains unchanged. The Heat had their own issues on their latest road trip (including a loss to the Sacramento Kings that Nuggets fans can empathize with) and are dealing with injuries to key players. As the Nuggets have shown all year though, they are more than willing to play down to the level of their competition and happy to help backups look like All-Stars. Is Denver willing to pick it up, or would they rather pack it in? We’ll see tonight.
Who: Denver Nuggets (38-32) at Miami Heat (37-33)
When: 5:30 PM MDT
Where: American Airlines Arena
How to watch/listen: Altitude TV and KKSE Altitude Radio AM950
Gary Harris - out (noooooooooo), Tyler Lydon, - out (knee), Hassan Whiteside - out (hip), Dwyane Wade - out (hamstring), Dion Waiters - out (ankle)
Three Things to Watch
Sense of urgency. Both teams need this win. The Nuggets have to climb back into the playoffs in the Western Conference - and yet Denver is only two games back of the knot of teams tied for fifth place. It’s truly an “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times” for the Mile High club, which is turning its fan base into a hot take paradise. The Heat are in eighth place in the East, with room to climb, but have had a mediocre March after a poor February to put their own fanbase in a similar situation. Which team will have the sense of urgency - from the tip, Denver, not from half-way through the third quarter - to put away a playoff contender and keep climbing the standings in their own conference?
Injury replacement. Miami is using Bam Adebayo to replace Hassan Whiteside, to varying effect. I have no idea who replaced Gary Harris for the Nuggets on Thursday, who seemed to be playing 4-on-5 for most of the night. The team with the best performance from its replacements might just win, and Denver has given up season-high performances to 47* random backups this year. Can Denver clamp down on the second-string guys? Does Denver even possess clamps? These are the burning questions of the day.
(*number is gut-generated and not researched with Elias Sports Bureau, NBA.com or any other affiliated news agency or basement-dwelling obsessor)
Cojones. /kəˈhoʊˌneɪs/ noun
definition: [plural] US slang
1) boldness or courage needed to do something, ie, “The Nuggets have the/enough cojones [=guts, nerve] to fight for the playoffs.”
2) a man’s testicles, ie, “The Nuggets once again kicked their fan base in its collective cojones.”
After the game we’ll discuss whether definition one or definition two came into play tonight.
Denver fights for four quarters. Some questionable calls go against them. Denver loses a woulda-coulda-shoulda game 108-105. Here’s hoping this is very wrong, because this is a game the Nuggets simply have to have, and one I originally thought they would lose on this road trip after beating the Memphis Grizzlies. Having lost in Memphis, they have to flip the script tonight or this road trip could dump Denver firmly in the lottery before it’s over.
Denver’s front office may not feel this season was playoffs-or-bust, but tonight definitely feels like a lottery ticket with a loss. Get it done, Nuggets.