Motivated Nuggets visit lowly Knicks
With a playoff berth secured, the task for the Denver Nuggets is to complete the regular season in historic fashion.
The objective the rest of the way for the New York Knicks is equally noteworthy, albeit in an entirely different fashion.
Two teams traveling opposite paths will meet Friday night when the NBA-worst Knicks host the surging Nuggets at Madison Square Garden.
The Nuggets will be completing the second game of a back-to-back set after beating the host Washington Wizards 113-108 on Thursday night. The Knicks were off Thursday after falling to the visiting Utah Jazz 137-116 on Wednesday night.
The win was the fifth in a row for the Nuggets (48-22), who clinched a playoff berth when they began a four-game road trip by beating the Boston Celtics 114-105 on Monday night. But Denver, which is headed to the postseason for the first time since 2012-13, has bigger things in mind than simply showing up to the party.
The Nuggets are a half-game behind the Golden State Warriors in the race for the top seed in the Western Conference. The Warriors (49-22) maintained their lead later Thursday night with a 112-89 win over the visiting Indiana Pacers.
The Nuggets have never earned the top seed in the Western Conference and have never reached an NBA Finals. Denver fell in the conference finals in 1977-78, 1984-85 and 2008-09.
Despite the successful season, consistency has eluded the Nuggets, who opened 9-1 but have experienced three losing streaks of at least three games, two of those skids occurring since the start of February.
With that in mind, coach Michael Malone is hoping to see a renewed focus down the stretch from the Nuggets, with the Houston Rockets four games back in the race for the second seed and the Portland Trail Blazers 4 1/2 games behind Denver.
"So instead of being satisfied with being a playoff team, let's be greedy," Malone said following the Thursday win. "Let's continue to fight for home-court advantage, maybe a number-one seed -- whatever it might be. But let's not just go into the games like, 'You know what, these games don't matter. We've already clinched.' Because that's not going to allow us to go into the postseason playing our best basketball.
"So hopefully (Friday) night, our starters will come out and get us off to a great start and try to get another road win on this four-game road trip."
Wins have been few and far between for the Knicks (14-58), who have lost two straight and 10 of 11 to move 2 1/2 games "ahead" of the Phoenix Suns in the race for the worst record in the NBA. New York needs to win least four of its final 10 games to avoid matching or "exceeding" the worst record in franchise history, a 17-65 mark that was produced by the 2014-15 squad.
The Knicks have not finished with the league's worst record since the 1985-86 season, which was franchise center Patrick Ewing's rookie year. Of course, New York got Ewing after winning the 1985 draft lottery, and management is banking on similar good fortune this spring, along with perhaps a notable free agent signing or two, to turn things around in 2019-20.
The teams with the three worst records in the NBA will all have a 14 percent chance of winning the lottery, which is scheduled for May 14.
Before then, though, the Knicks will try to avoid making at least two bits of ignoble history. The loss to the Jazz marked the beginning of a six-game homestand for New York, which is just 7-27 at Madison Square Garden.
"It will be good for us to just settle into home and play games without having to jump on a flight and go here, go there," Knicks coach David Fizdale told reporters earlier this week. "We have a lot of practice time in between those games. It gives us an opportunity to get better."
--Field Level Media
Updated March 22, 2019