Pacers finish road swing on losing note, fall to Nuggets in Denver
DENVER (AP) — Wilson Chandler sees one thing very clearly through a mask he’s wearing to protect his broken nose — the Denver Nuggets need to keep right on winning.
There’s still plenty of work to do, but their playoff aspirations are within view.
Nikola Jokic scored 30 points, Jamal Murray hit a clutch 3-pointer late — his only one of the game — and the Nuggets held off the Indiana Pacers 107-104 on Tuesday night.
“We can’t worry about what other teams are doing,” Chandler said. “We have to keep winning, keep playing for one another and doing the right things.”
The victory pulled Denver within a half-game of New Orleans for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
What’s more, the Nuggets now trail Minnesota by a game for the seventh spot and have two of their final four games against the Timberwolves, including Thursday night. No pressure there, right?
“It’s another game you’ve got to win,” Murray said. “I’m not going to say it’s another game you’ve got to win with an exclamation mark. Just got to go out there with the same energy and make sure everybody’s locked in from the jump.”
Nuggets coach Michael Malone appreciates the carefree attitude of his team as they try to make their first postseason appearance since 2012-13.
“I want our guys to play free, to enjoy and embrace the moment in what we are involved in right now,” Malone said.
Chandler donned a mask to protect the nose he broke last week against Oklahoma City. He struggled early with his shot, going 0 for 5 in the first half (“pretty uncomfortable for me — always got to fix it,” he said). Chandler finally found his touch in the third. He hit three 3-pointers to spark a run to open some breathing room.
Victor Oladipo had 25 points for the Pacers, who had their five-game winning streak snapped, but remain fifth in the Eastern Conference. Oladipo scored a career-high 47 points against the Nuggets on Dec. 10.
“I felt I was getting hit from all types of angles,” Oladipo said. “Everybody does a good job of misdirecting me and pushing me a little bit when I go to the hole so it’s hard to accelerate. You can’t see it as a referee so you can’t get upset.”
Seeing their once double-digit lead trimmed to 91-89, the Nuggets got a lift from Murray, who made a 3-pointer from the corner with 3:37 left. He celebrated a bit as he made his way back down the court. Will Barton turned in a big game as well with 26 points and 10 rebounds.
“We know what we’re capable of,” Barton said. “It’s all about us coming into the game with that mindset of, ‘Let’s lock in. Let’s focus and take care of business.'”
Pacers: Indiana hasn’t won in Denver since Nov. 27, 2007. … F Thaddeus Young had 15 points and 10 rebounds.
Nuggets: G Gary Harris missed a ninth straight game with a strained right knee. … Denver was already in the bonus at 8:48 of the fourth quarter. The team went 11 of 13 from the free throw line in the quarter.
GIVE ‘EM A BREAK
Malone has called off a couple of practices and morning shoot-around sessions to give his players extra rest down the stretch.
“That’s the best thing for our team,” Malone said. “Give them rest physically as well as mentally so we can go into these games and hopefully give ourselves a chance to win.”
Oladipo had four steals against the Nuggets to give him at least one in 61 straight games. It’s the sixth-longest streak in NBA history.
His elevated play this season is a reason he’s among the favorites for the NBA’s most improved player award.
“He impacts the game in so many different ways,” Malone said. “That’s why I think he’s the most improved.”
The Pacers went 3-1 on their Western trip.
“We gave ourselves a chance to win,” coach Nate McMillan said. “A couple of mental mistakes down the stretch. They made some baskets that cost us this game.”
Pacers: Host Golden State on Thursday.
Nuggets: Wrap up a three-game homestand Thursday in a pivotal game against Minnesota.