Nuggets trying to avoid letdown against Hornets
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The Denver Nuggets don't have trouble getting ready for good teams. In their last four games they've beaten the Golden State Warriors and Oklahoma City Thunder and suffered close losses to the Boston Celtics and San Antonio Spurs.
Now they face a real test -- showing the same enthusiasm for a nonplayoff team.
Denver (28-25) is on a high after beating the reigning champions, 115-108, on Saturday night. But moments after that win the players were talking about not having a letdown against the 23-29 Charlotte Hornets, who are coming off of a 115-110 win over Phoenix on Sunday afternoon.
"It was huge," guard Gary Harris said after Saturday's win. "We just have to use this momentum and build on it and not relax against Charlotte. We should come out ready to play and try to keep it rolling."
That has been a problem for the Nuggets of late. They've suffered home losses to Phoenix and Atlanta, won a squeaker over Dallas at Pepsi Center and lost at Sacramento. With a game Wednesday in Houston, it would be easy to fall into bad habits and overlook the Hornets.
"In this league you can't come up for air, you can't relax," Denver coach Michael Malone said after Saturday's win. "You have to stay at it and keep doing what we are doing no matter who we play."
It might help Denver's attention level going against a team that has Kemba Walker and Dwight Howard, and one that has reeled off three straight wins. Howard had 18 points and 14 rebounds in the win over the Suns, Nicolas Batum had 22 points and Walker also scored 18.
Walker is averaging 22.8 points this season and 32.3 during the current winning streak, and had 19 in Charlotte's 17-point home win against Denver on Oct. 25.
Walker struggled from long range in Sunday's win, hitting just 2 of 10 of his 3-point attempts but still managed to set the franchise record with 930 career 3-pointers. He passed Dell Curry, the team's television color analyst, to take over the top spot in team history.
The Hornets might get forward Marvin Williams back from a left ankle sprain soon. He has missed three games but said his rehab is going well.
"I feel a little bit better every day," Williams told The Charlotte Observer. "It swelled a little bit from the flight but (it's) not terrible."
Denver will try to take advantage of Charlotte playing its third game in four nights. The Hornets are also in the midst of a stretch of playing seven of eight games on the road, including four on this Western Conference swing. It's a key time for a team that is just three games out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
The Nuggets, meanwhile, are a game ahead of the Los Angeles Clippers for the last playoff spot in the Western Conference and one game behind Portland for sixth.
With such a tight race, the Nuggets can't afford to let up against Charlotte -- or any team.
"We have to come out and show that we can play the same way that we did (Saturday), no matter who we are playing," Malone said. "That is going to be a heck of a challenge for us on Monday."
Updated February 4, 2018