Nuggets lose final game of the regular season but are already focused on the playoffs

Apr 10, 2022; Denver, Colorado, USA; Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) during the second half against the Los Angeles Lakers at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets had as much as a 17-point lead in the fourth quarter until the Los Angeles Lakers put together a 15-4 run in the last three minutes to tie it at 135 and send the game to overtime. The Lakers outscored the Nuggets 11-6 in the extra quarter to win it 146-141. 

“I’m not even worried about it,” Denver coach Michael Malone said. “Great experience for the guys that were out there but obviously a very disappointing fourth quarter. Played no defense. Gave up 40 points. Gave up seven 3’s in the fourth quarter… The season is over. No one got hurt tonight and we’ll focus on moving forward and preparing for Golden State.” 

Malone may have not been worried about it but he was definitely mad and kept his postgame press conference under a minute. A loss is a loss despite the fact that this game didn’t really matter. The Nuggets had already clinched a playoff spot and had most of their starters out. Nikola Jokić (right wrist soreness), Aaron Gordon (left hamstring management), Monté Morris (left elbow soreness), and Will Barton (right knee soreness) were all on the injury report and listed as out while Bones Hyland, DeMarcus Cousins, Austin Rivers, Bryn Forbes and Jeff Green started in their place. Green was the only starter who played in Sunday night’s game.

The Lakers were also missing several key players. LeBron James (left ankle sprain), Anthony Davis (right mid-foot sprain), Russell Westbrook (right shoulder soreness), Carmelo Anthony (non-COVID related illness) and Kendrick Nunn (right knee bone bruise) were all listed as out. Malik Monk had himself a game for Los Angeles putting up 41 points on 7 of 14 from beyond the arc. He had 18 points in the fourth to help get the Lakers back in the game. 

The Nuggets have turned the page and are already thinking ahead to their matchup against the Golden State Warriors this upcoming Saturday in the first round of the 2022 NBA Playoffs. Bryne Forbes, who went undrafted in the 2016 NBA draft, is in his sixth NBA season and has played in the playoffs in four of those and won an NBA championship with the Milwaukee Bucks last year. He shared the biggest differences between the regular season and postseason. 

“The focus and attention to detail got to be at a much higher level than in the regular season,” Forbes said. “Also you got to be able to adjust because you got a team that’s just had a week preparing for you and watching a lot of film and they’re going to try to change everything you do and take away what you’re best at so if we can do the same and we can adjust we’ll be fine.” 

DeMarcus Cousins is another player with playoff experience although he has only been to the playoffs twice in his 12-year career. He has veteran leadership that Nuggets players appreciate having in the locker room and will appreciate even more having on the floor in the postseason. Cousins agrees that you have to go into the playoffs with a totally different mindset. 

“Regular season is one thing,” Cousins said. “Obviously you can get away with a lot of things. A lot of small detail things. In the playoffs every possession matters. We got to lock in on the game plan, whatever that may be and every small detail matters.”

Cousins never shies away from speaking his mind especially when it comes to helping his teammates. He has already been vocal about the Nuggets’  issues with turnovers and said that’s one area in particular that they need to figure out before the playoffs. 

“Biggest thing for us, we got to get our turnovers under control because for a team like Golden State they can capitalize on, if you have a 10-15 turnover game that can get ugly,” Cousins said. “So I would say the biggest thing right now is turnovers and we got to get our rotations down packed on the defensive end.”

The Nuggets are the fifth worst team in the league in turnovers per game with 14.5 and committed 11 against the Warriors last time they played them. It’s something they need to get under control, especially going up against a fast, athletic team like Golden State with two of the best shooters of all time in Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. The Nuggets are 3-1 against them this season but they haven’t been at full strength with Curry, Thompson and Draymond Green all on the floor at the same time. The Nuggets know it’s going to be no easy task. 

“Obviously we’re playing the greatest shooter of all time, two of the greatest shooters of all time,” Cousins said. “Constant threats on the floor from basically anywhere and they’re a well oiled machine. They have championship DNA. They’ve been here plenty of times so we got to lace our boots up.”

The Nuggets will be shorthanded without Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. There were high hopes throughout the season that those two may have been back in time for the playoffs but it doesn’t look like that’s happening. 

The NBA play-in tournament begins this Tuesday, April 12 through Friday, April 15. Tuesday features a double-header between the No. 8 Cleveland Cavaliers and No.7 Brooklyn Nets followed by the No. 8 Los Angeles Clippers against the No. 7 Minnesota Timberwolves.

Wednesday is the No. 10 Charlotte Hornets against the No. 9 Atlanta Hawks followed by the No. 10 San Antonio Spurs and the No. 9 New Orleans Pelicans.

Friday features the winner of the Charlotte/Atlanta matchup versus the loser of the Cleveland/Brooklyn game and then the winner of the San Antonio/New Orleans game against the loser of Los Angeles/Minnesota.

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