One three-game losing streak will end Tuesday night when the Denver Nuggets visit the Toronto Raptors.
Despite 35 points, 20 rebounds and 11 assists from Nikola Jokic, the Nuggets lost 122-120 at home to the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday before embarking on a five-game trip that starts in Toronto.
While the Nuggets still led the Western Conference by five games after their third straight loss, the Raptors are entering a stretch that will determine their playoff or play-in status.
The Raptors are coming off a 122-112 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday to complete a 1-4 trip with three consecutive defeats.
The trip included a 118-113 loss at Denver on March 6.
The Raptors entered Monday ninth in the Eastern Conference, the second-to-last play-in spot in a tightly bunched race.
“We’ve got to win just to get in,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “We want to get in, we want to have a chance. Even though we’re down the standings a little bit, we don’t feel like there’s a huge gap between us and a lot of teams in this league. I don’t think we’re afraid of too many teams. The main thing for us is to continue to focus on getting better, playing better, getting some wins and getting in the tournament and then we’ll see what happens.”
“Our mindset is always the same,” said Scottie Barnes, who scored a career-best 32 points Friday and added nine rebounds and seven assists. “We really want these games really bad. We have them most of the game, and we just can’t close it out. Our mindset is the same: Keep trying to stay together, keep playing together, we’ve got to grind. Each and every time out we want to win these.”
O.G. Anunoby added 31 points for the Raptors. It was their first loss for Toronto when two players scored 30 or more points in a game since Feb. 6, 2012.
Jokic missed a 3-pointer at the final buzzer on Sunday that would have given Denver the win after they had trailed by 15 points in the fourth quarter.
“It happens,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said of the losing streak. “We probably spoiled a lot of people.”
Jamal Murray scored 16 points for Denver, but he did not play in the fourth quarter because of a sore left knee. He is listed as questionable for Tuesday’s game.
Michael Porter Jr. added 23 points for Denver. Christian Braun did not play until the fourth quarter and helped spark the rally with seven points, three rebounds, one assist and one blocked shot.
“(The losing streak) is not the end of the world,” Braun said. “We’re extremely talented.”
He played 11:39 of the fourth quarter and helped Denver outpace Brooklyn 33-24 after the Nuggets were outscored 37-18 in the third.
“They just say, ‘Change the game, change the energy,'” Braun said he was told before entering the game.
“When you’re down like we were, you’re just looking for a spark, you’re looking for somebody to give you some life,” Malone said. “I’m looking for guys that can guard, and Christian has shown all year long, any chance he’s been given to play, he’s gone out there and done that.”
–Field Level Media