The last 48 hours of developments in the Nuggets’ chase for the eight seed in the Western Conference have made winning every game the remainder season a must.
Portland’s win over Minnesota on Thursday night, a day after the Nuggets loss at Houston, gave the Blazers a 1 ½ game lead over the Nuggets for the spot. That means Portland’s magic number to clinch the final playoff seed is two; any combination of two Portland wins and Nuggets losses will do it.
Until then, the Nuggets forge on.
Friday night, that means facing New Orleans for the third time in the last two weeks. It is the Nuggets first home game since March 26, which, incidentally, was against New Orleans. The teams split the two meetings in this span, each winning on the other’s home court. The latest was a wild, 134-131 Nuggets win at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans on Tuesday.
Pelicans star DeMarcus Cousins, who did play in that contest, may not play in this one due to a sore Achilles.
“If he doesn’t play they’re a different team,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “But let’s not forget, they came in here and beat our butts pretty good without Cousins. These games – seven teams have clinched a spot in the West, six teams have been eliminated. Us and Portland, they are up a game and a half. Yes, we’re banged up, we don’t have some guys able to play tonight. But this is a game that we have to go out and get to try and keep our slim playoff hopes alive.”
The Nuggets will be thin again at the guard spot. Jameer Nelson is out of the game with a strained right calf. He played on it in Houston on Wednesday.
“Jameer, I give him a lot of credit,” Malone said. “He tried to fight through the calf injury in Houston and obviously after the game that flared up.”
Friday’s game is the penultimate home game for the Nuggets, whose home schedule ends on Sunday at the Pepsi Center against Oklahoma City. At 21-18, they have already clinched a winning record at home this season, which is their first since going 22-19 in 2013-14.
“It should be hopefully a good atmosphere,” Malone said. “Guys can come out here and take advantage of the situation, being home after a very long road trip. … We’re all excited to be home, and with four games to go, we still believe. Let’s continue to put pressure on Portland and try to win as many games as we can.”