The Denver Nuggets had an opportunity to take their first 10-game winning streak in seven years into a matchup at the Houston Rockets next week. Following two road victories, they were scheduled to play three home games against teams with losing records, setting up that possible development.
Then came the face plant against the New Orleans Pelicans on Christmas night in a 112-100 loss, and the Nuggets went from flying high to humbled. They can get that swagger back when the host the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday night.
Denver hasn’t played since the loss to the Pelicans while Memphis is coming off a 110-97 win at the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday night. The win came three nights after the Grizzlies were crushed 145-115 on their home court by the San Antonio Spurs.
“We’ve had some tough endings the last (few games), but we don’t dwell,” Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins said after the win over the Thunder. “We move forward. Our guys are continuing to get better. The competitiveness is there every single night. But when you get that production, that competitive fire from all 11 guys, the unselfishness that we’re talking about, the critical learning opportunities that we’ve had, in the fourth quarter to close out a win is huge for us.”
The Grizzlies have some young talent to build on, including forward Jaren Jackson Jr. and team-leading scorer Ja Morant (17.9-point average), the 20-year-old guard who is building an impressive resume for the Rookie of the Year award. He was one of the few bright spots in the loss to the Spurs, with two impressive dunks and a crossover for a layup.
Memphis is hoping its young core develops into a playoff-caliber team in the near future. For Denver, that already has happened. With 24-year-old center Nikola Jokic and 22-year-old guard Jamal Murray leading the way, the Nuggets have the second-best record in the Western Conference, despite the loss to New Orleans.
The defeat snapped a seven-game winning streak that included big comebacks against losing teams, but Denver wasn’t able to overcome another one. Still, the Nuggets (21-9) are off to their best start in franchise history after coming within a game of reaching the Western Conference finals last year.
Denver is often overlooked in the conference with teams such as the Los Angeles Lakers, L.A. Clippers and Houston Rockets gaining the most attention, but the players don’t mind the lack of attention.
“Yeah, I think you’re always going to have people doubt you can do it until you do it,” backup center Mason Plumlee said. “That’s part of the motivation but it’s not the ultimate motivation.”
To avoid losing a second straight game at home, the Nuggets will have to contain Morant. Memphis’ backup point guard Tyus Jones also has started playing well. In 14 games in December, he is shooting 52 percent from 3-point range and 50.6 percent overall and, more important, he is averaging just 0.7 turnovers a game.
Denver can’t allow any of the Memphis players to find a rhythm. It happened against New Orleans, and Brandon Ingram torched the Nuggets for 31 points while going 7-for-9 from 3-point range.