With the All-Star break looming, Denver Nuggets coach Michael Malone hopes his team can gain some momentum during a stretch of four games in six days that begins with a road game against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday.
“The schedule’s been unrelenting, but it is what it is,” Malone said. “We’ve got to find a way to fight through this the last four games going into the break.”
One of Malone’s biggest frustrations recently has been rebounding.
In late January, the Nuggets were the NBA’s second-best team on the boards.
“The last, I don’t know, two weeks, we’ve been a far cry from that,” Malone said after Denver’s 112-110 loss to the visiting Washington Wizards on Thursday. “We don’t get a ton of second-chance points anymore, and we’ve been really hurt on the glass.
“Big or small, the guys out there got to be sure we’re not ball-watching.”
Over the past two weeks, Denver has dropped out of the top 10 in rebounding percentage. Similarly, the Nuggets have fallen off in opponent’s second-chance production.
Part of that has been a spate of injuries. Paul Millsap (knee) will miss his seventh consecutive game Saturday, and JaMychal Green (shoulder) will be out for the fourth straight game. Gary Harris (thigh) will sit out for the fifth time in a row, but P.J. Dozier (hamstring) could be back after a 15-game absence.
“We lack a presence in the middle that can just deter layups,” Denver’s Jamal Murray said. “That’s kind of frustrating. We can play good defense and then late (in the) shot clock, they get a drive and kick and we don’t have a presence there to go up there and challenge the shot.”
The Nuggets are 2-4 over their past six games.
The Thunder have won two straight and three of their past four, including a 118-109 victory over the visiting Atlanta Hawks on Friday.
Oklahoma City will be without Hamidou Diallo for the second consecutive game. Diallo’s groin injury — which could keep him out until after the All-Star break — opened the door for Ty Jerome to make his Thunder debut.
Jerome had nine points and a career-high-tying seven assists in 22 minutes on Friday, a day after being recalled from the G League.
Jerome sustained an ankle injury on the opening day of training camp after being acquired in an offseason trade with the Phoenix Suns.
“I thought he did a great job plugging in,” Thunder coach Mark Daigneault said. “It was an uphill recovery for sure.”
Jerome helped the Thunder stay afloat when Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was on the bench.
Gilgeous-Alexander has been a major reason for Oklahoma City’s success of late, shooting better than 62 percent from the field and averaging 31 points over the past four games. He finished with 24 points on 9-of-16 shooting against the Hawks.
This is the teams’ third and final meeting of the season and the only one in Oklahoma City. The Nuggets won the first two, 119-101 on Jan. 19 and 97-95 on Feb. 12.
–Field Level Media