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DENVER — The Nuggets were dead in the water following their 101-94 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies to open a pivotal seven-game road trip two weeks ago. Denver dropped its next game 48 hours later in Miami in double-overtime. The Nuggets’ playoff hopes were fading fast.
But now a momentum-shifting overtime win in Oklahoma City followed by an emotional come-from-behind victory Sunday night over the Milwaukee Bucks has Denver believing again.
“We still believe. I said it after OKC, a lot of people in this circle have given up on us. They say all these things about us. That’s okay,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said while addressing the media after his team’s latest win. “All that matters is the 15 guys in that locker room. They believe. We as a coaching staff believe, and we’re going to approach these last five games with the belief that we’re a playoff team.”
Back-to-back victories over the Thunder and Bucks have elevated Denver’s confidence to an all-time high.
Those wins combined with losses from the Clippers and Timberwolves on Sunday have the Nuggets in control of their own destiny with five regular-season games remaining. Denver still trails Minnesota by 1 1/2 games in the West standings, but with two late-season matchups with the Timberwolves looming, Denver can still jump its Northwest Division foe in the standings. The Nuggets enter Tuesday’s matchup with the Indiana Pacers (7:00 p.m., Altitude) a game ahead of the Clippers for ninth place in the West.
“We can beat anybody,” proclaimed Jamal Murray. “We’ve just got to handle runs better. People hit us hard, and we kind of fold into it or give into it sometimes, and when we fight back we’re hard to stop.”
With teams towards the bottom of the Western Conference playoff picture still jockeying for position, the Nuggets need another victory to keep pace. The Pacers helped Denver on Sunday when they edged the Clippers 111-104, which gave Indiana it’s fourth-straight win.
First-time All-Star Victor Oladipo scored a game-high 30 points on 11-17 shooting. Myles Turner added 24 points and eight rebounds. Overall, Indiana has won five straight and boast the league’s ninth-ranked offense and 13th-ranked defense.
In the Pacers’ win over the Clippers, Indiana converted its last five field goal attempts over the final 3:24 of regulation. On the season, the Pacers’ are the league’s second-best team in what NBA.com defines as the “clutch” — when there are five minutes or less remaining in regulation and the score is within five points. The Nuggets are the 14th-most efficient team this season in “clutch” situations but have pulled out back-to-back narrow victories.
Denver will be shorthanded again Tuesday. Gary Harris (right knee strain/sprain) will miss his ninth consecutive game. Harris could return Thursday against the Timberwolves. Wilson Chandler (nasal fracture) missed Sunday’s win over the Bucks and is listed as questionable against the Pacers.
Nuggets Projected Starters
Jamal Murray, Will Barton, Wilson Chandler, Paul Millsap, Nikola Jokic
Pacers Projected Starters
Darren Collison, Victor Oladipo, Bojan Bogdanovic, Thaddeus Young, Myles Turner