NBA Basketball

Nuggets start road trip against careening Grizzlies

The playoff-hopeful Denver Nuggets embark on a godsend of a three-week schedule Friday night when they begin a three-game trip in Memphis to take on the tail-spinning Grizzlies.

Coming off back-to-back home losses to Houston and the Los Angeles Clippers that temporarily dropped the Nuggets into a tie for the final playoff position in the Western Conference, they will play eight of their next 11 games against clubs with losing records.

The goal: solidify their playoff standing before a rugged 10-game stretch to end the regular season.

To help in that regard, the Nuggets welcomed back Paul Millsap from a 42-game injury absence in Tuesday's 122-120 loss to the Clippers. The key off-season acquisition squeezed nine points and seven rebounds into 23 minutes in his first action since November.

Millsap mostly watched a late Clippers burst that erased a 19-point deficit and produced a stunning win.

He hopes the Nuggets learned from the debacle.

"It (means) taking every possession serious, every possession like it's your last possession," he said of what he hopes will be a "playoff mentality" the rest of the season. "That's what a playoff team does. They get stops when need it, and they don't wait to try to do that."

The door surely is wide open for the Nuggets to turn things back in a positive direction. Among their next 11 opponents are the Grizzlies and Los Angeles Lakers twice apiece as well as the Dallas Mavericks, Sacramento Kings, Detroit Pistons and Chicago Bulls once.

The only teams with winning records on the schedule between now and March 23 are the Cleveland Cavaliers twice and the Miami Heat.

The worst of the bunch could very well be the Grizzlies, whose 11-game losing streak has dropped them into a tie for the fewest wins in the NBA this season.

As if a 10-game slump wasn't bad enough, Memphis might have hit rock bottom in a 110-102 home loss to Phoenix on Wednesday night.

The Suns, likewise, had taken the court saddled with a 10-game losing streak.

The loss capped a winless February for the Grizzlies, the first month without a victory in franchise history since the Vancouver-originated team dropped 17 straight in March 1996.

"Red wine helps at night," Grizzlies veteran center Marc Gasol responded when asked how he has dealt with a winless month. "We should've won some of the games."

The Nuggets have tightened the defensive screws on the Grizzlies in both earlier meetings this season. Playing at home both times, Denver won 104-92 and 87-78.

In the meantime, the Nuggets have gotten their offense in high gear. They've scored 114 or more points in nine of their last 10 games, a stretch during which they've gone 7-3.

The Nuggets led the league in scoring in February at 119.7 points per game, shooting 50.1 percent overall (second to Golden State's 52.6) and 39.4 percent on 3-pointers (fourth best behind the Warriors, Charlotte Hornets and Lakers).

Meanwhile, the Grizzlies have allowed 109 or more points in each of their last six losses, and haven't come close to keeping pace. They ranked last in the NBA in scoring in February at 94.2 points per game, a full 7.5 points worse than the No. 29 team on the list, the Bulls.

Updated March 1, 2018

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