NBA Basketball

Nuggets have eyes open as Cavs visit

The Denver Nuggets shook off a blowout loss on Tuesday to rout the Chicago Bulls on Thursday. Now they will try to end their homestand Saturday with a win over the struggling Cleveland Cavaliers.

Denver routed the Bulls and got a day off to rest before the last of their four-game set at Pepsi Center. The Nuggets have a chance to finish 3-1 if they can beat a Cavaliers team coming off a 115-99 loss at Utah on Friday night.

The Nuggets (30-14) suffered bruised egos when the Warriors came in and beat them by 31 to take over the top spot in the Western Conference. The humbling game could have carried over to Thursday, but Denver bounced back against Chicago.

It was the needed response.

"We needed to wake up to try to play like we were supposed to play, not just this game but every game," center Nikola Jokic said after the win over the Bulls. "When we got to the other gear, we played the right way."

Cleveland (9-37) is heading in a different direction.

The Cavaliers ended a 12-game losing streak with a win at the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday night but have lost to Portland and the Jazz. After four straight trips to the NBA Finals and a title in 2016, Cleveland has the worst record in the league

A big reason, of course, is hometown hero LeBron James packing up and heading to the Lakers. It was the second time he left the Cavaliers for warmer climates, but general manager David Griffin says the team is in a better place than eight years ago when James signed with Miami.

"Think back to what it was like when LeBron left (in 2010)," Griffin told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "It was an emotional storm. The whole city was galvanized (against James). The goal was to make the playoffs without him."

The playoffs aren't in the cards this season, but the Cavs do have some pieces. Unfortunately for them, the biggest piece, forward Kevin Love, has played in just four games due to a toe injury. He is likely out until after the All-Star break.

Denver went through similar -- but not as severe -- growing pains over the past five years. After winning 57 games in 2012-13, the team fired coach George Karl and injuries mounted. Brian Shaw was the head coach before being fired midway through his second season, and Michael Malone was hired after the 2015-16 season.

Denver has improved every season under Malone but finished just outside the playoffs in each of the past two years. Barring a collapse, the Nuggets will reach the postseason this year in large part because of an improved defense.

Denver also has learned the lesson of not taking lesser teams lightly. That was a problem in the past two years but not this season. The Nuggets know they have to win games like this, and facing a Cleveland team coming in on the second of a back-to-back set is a perfect chance to pad their playoff positioning.

--Field Level Media

Updated January 19, 2019

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