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Preview: Nuggets hope to stay afloat in playoff race against Cavaliers

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Can Denver dethrone the King twice in one week?

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Denver Nuggets Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

One day after arguably the worst loss of the season (how many times have we heard that one?), the Nuggets are back home to face the Cleveland Cavaliers on the second night of a back-to-back.

Needless to say, the importance of tonight’s game cannot be overstated. Every game from here on out is a must-win, and coming off of a horrible loss in Dallas only exacerbates that idea. Defeating LeBron James and the Cavs is always a tall task, but if the Nuggets want to even stay afloat in the Western Conference playoff race they need to do it for the second time in a week.

The Basics

Who: Cleveland Cavaliers (37-26) at Denver Nuggets (35-29)

When: 8:30 PM MST

Where: Pepsi Center, Denver, CO

How to watch: ESPN, Altitude

Rival Blog: Fear the Sword

The biggest story going into tonight’s game is not just the playoff race, but rather the underwhelming and perhaps frustrating way things ended in Dallas and whether Denver can recover quickly from it. In an ugly yet still-winnable game, Coach Malone elected to leave Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray on the bench for the entire fourth quarter last night, citing effort and players just “going through the motions” as reasons for his decision. Jokic and Murray combined for just 10 points on 4-17 shooting on the evening in an uncharacteristic game from both of them, but the team as a whole didn’t necessarily convince fans that they are serious about making the playoffs either.

How the Nuggets respond against Cleveland to this self-inflicted adversity will be telling in where the team is headed in the last stretch of the season. Will the Nuggets continue to play to their competition? Can Jokic bounce back from his recent struggles and adjust to Paul Millsap’s presence in the starting lineup? Tristan Thompson is out, which should give Jokic some favorable match ups.

Who will step up and take over when the going gets rough? On Saturday it was late-game heroics by Paul Millsap and Gary Harris that ultimately gave Denver the win. And will Denver be able to withstand the balanced attack by LeBron James, who had a triple-double in the last meeting?

Yes, last night’s loss was depressing. But the Nuggets are still the 8th seed in the Western Conference and with 19 games remaining still have time to make up for it. Let’s hope they get things right tonight.