DENVER — The Denver Nuggets are clinging to playoff hopes now, and it doesn’t get any easier for them this week.
After two losses in a home-and-home set with Houston, the Nuggets host the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday night.
Denver, which is 6-4 in March, leads the Trail Blazers by a game for the last Western Conference playoff spot.
The schedule favors the Trail Blazers: Portland (32-38) plays nine of its final 12 games at home while Denver (33-37) is on the road for eight of the last 12. Thus, the game against the Cavaliers is a must-win for the Nuggets.
There may be a silver lining for Denver. Injured forwards Danilo Gallinari (left knee bone bruise) and Wilson Chandler (right groin contusion) could return after missing three and four games, respectively. Had those two starters been able to play the two games against the Rockets, the Nuggets might have walked away with a six-game winning streak instead of losses by four and two points.
They could certainly use them against LeBron James and company.
“Hopeful is the word I’d use,” coach Michael Malone told The Denver Post on Monday about the duo’s status. “We’ll have to wait and see how their continued rehabs go and how they’re feeling. For both of those guys it comes down to whether they’re comfortable enough and confident enough to go out there and play at a high level.”
Unlike the last three teams Denver has played at home, the Cavaliers (46-23) are not playing the second game in as many nights Wednesday. Cleveland’s last game was a Sunday win at the Los Angeles Lakers, and the Cavs might be getting back a key player for the stretch run.
Kyle Korver, acquired from Atlanta earlier this season, went through practice Tuesday and could play Wednesday after missing more than two weeks with a sore left foot.
“I feel a lot better, like I’ve been sitting a long time,” Korver told cleveland.com. “Definitely rested, my foot’s feeling stronger.”
Tristan Thompson missed practice to attend to his front teeth that were knocked backwards by a Julius Randle elbow on Sunday against the Lakers. Thompson was given dental braces to immediately repair the damage and went to the dentist on Tuesday.
Coach Tyronn Lue told cleveland.com that Thompson should play, which means his consecutive games streak will reach 440 games, tops among active NBA players.
The Cavaliers will be looking to maintain their two-game lead over the Boston Celtics in the race for the Eastern Conference’s top playoff seed.
Cleveland has added motivation to win Wednesday after NBA commissioner Adam Silver released a memo demanding team owners be involved in decisions to rest star players for games. James, guard Kyrie Irving and forward Kevin Love didn’t play in Saturday night against the Clippers in a nationally broadcast game, a week after Golden State and San Antonio did the same thing on ABC’s broadcast.
James told cleveland.com he disagreed with the memo.
“I love what Adam is doing for our league, but I don’t see how that (would help),” James said Tuesday. “I don’t understand why it’s become a problem now, because I sit out a couple games?
He added that Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has been resting players for years and it has helped them win titles.
“But some of our coaches in our league don’t have the stature that Pop has, and our head coach doesn’t have it so he gets killed for it,” James told cleveland.com. “So, I’ve got to keep winning to help my coach be able to have a reason why he can sit his players.”
The Nuggets didn’t need James to have any reason to play harder when they are trying to secure a playoff spot, but the league gave it to him. Denver is not shrinking from the challenge after a heartbreaking loss to Houston on Monday.
“We’re not going to accept moral victories,” Nelson said. “There’s a lot of basketball left.”