Nuggets host Warriors amid difficult stretch
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During one of their toughest stretches of the season, at the start of four straight games against some of the best teams in the NBA, the Denver Nuggets couldn't find the magic to get a win.
On consecutive nights, Will Barton missed 3-pointers that would have beaten Boston and San Antonio. The heartbreak of those squandered opportunities was nearly topped when the Oklahoma City Thunder rallied from 20 down Thursday to tie the game with 1.4 seconds left.
Facing a likely overtime period, Gary Harris instead erased the pain of the two previous games with a dagger at the buzzer to give Denver a 127-124 win on national TV.
The Nuggets' reward for Thursday's thriller is a matchup with the reigning NBA champion Golden State Warriors on Saturday night. However, Denver coach Michael Malone was feeling proud of his team moments after the win over the Thunder.
"Going into this four-game stretch of Boston, San Antonio, OKC and Golden State, we knew it was going to be a tough grind," he said after the game. "How proud I am of this team, I can't even explain it. To give ourselves a chance against Boston, to give ourselves a chance against San Antonio on the road and to give ourselves a chance again (Thursday), third game in four nights, against a team that is playing very well. And we pulled it out."
If Denver (27-25) has its way, Saturday's game will be the last against the Warriors until the postseason, and if possible not in the first round. The Warriors (41-11) sit atop the Western Conference after their 119-104 win at Sacramento while the Nuggets hold the eighth and final seed, so if the season ended Saturday, the teams would meet in the first round.
That would be a tough return to the postseason for Denver, and set up a rematch of the 2013 opening series in which the No. 6 seed Warriors upset the third-seeded Nuggets in six games.
However, with 30 games left in the regular season, neither team is thinking about April yet. For Golden State, Saturday is a chance to wrap up a three-game road trip 2-1, which started with a 30-point loss to Utah on Tuesday night.
The Warriors played the Kings without David West and Andre Iguodala, who were both held out for rest. In addition, guard Shaun Livingston (personal reasons) and Jordan Bell (left ankle) were out.
Bell, who was injured Jan. 17 against Chicago, will be out at least through the All-Star break.
Golden State still had enough weapons to get by Sacramento, but Denver won't be as easy. The Nuggets have played the Warriors tough over the last two seasons, including a 96-81 win at Golden State on Dec. 23.
Saturday's game gives the Nuggets a chance to split the season series, but the Warriors will be ready, especially after the drubbing they took in Utah.
"The solution to this is just to play harder and be more focused when we step on that court," forward Kevin Durant told The San Francisco Chronicle. "We have a lot more games to go, and we have another opportunity to redeem ourselves."
Denver got redemption Thursday night. Saturday could be even more special if it results in a win.
Updated February 3, 2018