DENVER — The Denver Nuggets got two much-needed days off after playing six games in nine nights. The upside was they were 4-2 in that stretch to get back to .500 at 5-5.
The downside is that their 127-108 home loss to the Golden State Warriors on Saturday demonstrated how big the gap is for them to reach elite status.
The Nuggets aren’t concerned about that right now. Their main focus is finishing the current six-game homestand with three wins. If they can do that, the only loss would have been to the defending NBA champions.
Next up are the Brooklyn Nets, a team the Nuggets beat by 13 in New York nine days ago. The Nets (4-6) are coming off a 98-92 win at Phoenix on Monday, led by guard D’Angelo Russell’s 23 points. The win ended Brooklyn’s three-game losing streak.
Denver can’t take the Nets lightly. Playing consecutive nights is hard, but the Nuggets have been victimized by teams coming to Pepsi Center on the second of back-to-back games.
The Saturday loss to Golden State was Denver’s second game of a back-to-back set, so it is fresh in the players’ minds how it feels to play two in a row.
“It’s the NBA. You can’t make those types of excuses,” said Will Barton, who led the Nuggets with 21 points Saturday night. “Everyone plays the same amount of games. Sometimes you have back-to-back (games) and a lot of games in a lot of nights, so you just have to bring the effort.”
Denver has played well after starting the season 1-3, which included a blown lead in Utah on opening night and a poor home performance against Washington two weeks ago. The offense has picked up, averaging 111.8 points a game over the last six despite scoring just 95 in a one-point win against Miami on Friday night.
The other issue holding down Denver’s scoring is free throws. The Nuggets were 14 of 25 from the line against Miami, and missed foul shots late nearly cost them the game. They improved against Golden State, going 22 of 27 from the line, but their foul-shooting percentage is .718, which ranks 28th in the league.
“That’s something we need to work on,” Denver center Nikola Jokic said. “It’s the easiest shot in the game. The whole team needs to do that better.”
Brooklyn has one of the highest-scoring offenses in the league, trailing just Golden State in that category. The problem for the Nets is stopping other teams. They are last in the league in points per game.
One of the bright spots for Brooklyn is the play of fourth-year guard Spencer Dinwiddie. He scored a career-high 22 against Denver on Oct. 29 and comes into what should be a welcoming atmosphere. Dinwiddie played three seasons at the University of Colorado and helped the Buffaloes return to the NCAA Tournament in his three years there. Since joining the Nets before last season, he has played well.
Brooklyn will need more than Dinwiddie to deal with Denver’s frontcourt, and injuries have been an issue up front. Forward Quincy Acy returned to the lineup against the Suns after missing three games, but Trevor Booker missed his second game in a row due to a sore lower back. Atkinson told reporters Sunday that Booker had improved, but Booker didn’t get off the bench against Phoenix.
Without the two big men, Brooklyn has been forced to go small, using small forward DeMarre Carroll at power forward. Getting Acy back helps, but having both big men is vital to the Nets.
“It helps our overall chemistry,” coach Kenny Atkinson told Newsday of having Acy and Booker in the lineup. “Our defense suffers a little (without them). Rebounding, rim protection suffers. It’s more wear and tear on DeMarre’s body, too.”