The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Nuggets on a four-game winning streak without Gary Harris

Apr 5, 2018; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray (27) celebrates with forward Paul Millsap (4) after a play in the fourth quarter against the Minnesota Timberwolves at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

It wasn’t too long ago that the Denver Nuggets were written off as having yet another disappointing season. But today, sporting a 44-35 record after stringing together a few clutch wins, things are looking completely different and hope has turned into belief. Only a few more wins separate them from entering the playoffs for the first time since the 2012-13 season. Denver is currently riding a four-game winning streak, but are still on the outside of a jumbled Western Conference playoff race. While there are reasons for optimism, let’s also take a look at a few lows in this week’s good, bad and ugly.

The Good: wins, wins, wins  

Winning cures all, and Denver has been doing their part in ensuring that they have a chance at making the post season. Fivethirtyeight gave Denver a 33% at making the postseason as of Tuesday morning, but with multiple victories this week, those chances have increased to 48%. The Nuggets are riding a four-game winning streak with wins in overtime over the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Milwaukee Bucks, a three-point victory over the Indiana Pacers and in their most important game to date, they picked up a four-point win against the Minnesota Timberwolves which left them in a the for the final playoff spot. Head coach Michael Malone talked about the playoff-like atmosphere in recent games, saying, “I think the last couple wins have been playoff atmosphere. We have approached every game as a playoff game, and I think if we’re able to make the postseason, we’ll be ready.” There is new life in the team, and not only do the players believe, but fans are starting to show up and believe as well. Regardless of if the team makes the playoffs or not, seeing the fight and resiliency in this team this late in the season is an encouraging sign moving forward. “We’re not afraid of the moment,” said Malone, “our guys believe and I think you see a group that is embracing, having fun and we have three games to go now — so let’s just try and keep it going in the right direction.”

The Bad: Gary Harris still injured

It was originally assumed that Denver had dodged a bullet when Gary went down against the Detroit Pistons with a right knee sprain/strain. Since then, Denver has managed to go 6-4, but it hasn’t been easy without their leading scorer. The team hasn’t looked the same on the offensive end, but where it has missed him most is his defensive presence and ability to space the floor. Denver has also needed his leadership on the court and have looked lost at times without their proven starter, which has interfered with the bench unit and rotations as well. Prior to Denver’s must-win game against the Timberwolves on Thursday, Malone said, “it’s been 10 games now; three weeks since he hurt it against Detroit, longer than I think anyone anticipated, but he’s not where he needs to be for him to come back.” Malone even went on to say that while the team is hopeful he returns on Saturday against the Clippers; the best-case scenario is Monday against the Trail Blazers and even that is uncertain at this point, meaning they will go with the same lineup that has been getting the team by in their most important stretch of the season. While it would be monumental for the team to get their second leading scorer back, they have seemed to find a groove without him and have been using the ‘next man up’ approach with great results, the team will be cautious with their efforts at getting him back and continue to find ways to win while getting their top shooting guard healthy.

The Ugly: Western Conference playoff race

Usually, in the final week of the regular season, a few teams know what their playoff matchup will be, but that’s not the case this season, as only three teams out West who have reserved their spot. With only six days remaining in the regular season, there are seven Western Conference teams that are separated by only four losses, causing an unusual amount of chaos at this time of the year. Denver has three remaining games against teams that still have plenty to play for. They go up against the tenth-place Clippers on Saturday, Portland on Monday, and what might go down as the most important game of the season in a rematch against Minnesota on Wednesday. This upcoming week will be make-or-break — even one loss could potentially keep the Nuggets from the playoff. Each possession matters, and it starts with Saturday’s game.

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