Denver Nuggets coach Michael Malone was unwilling to wait for the less experienced members of his rotation to join the fight against the Golden State Warriors and, with three days between that showdown and the Nuggets’ next game, a Sunday road game against the Houston Rockets, Malone opted to lean heavily on his veterans.
As is usually the case, Malone pushed the right buttons. The Nuggets fashioned a late rally and claimed a hard-earned 108-105 victory over the Warriors on Wednesday that extended their winning streak to four games. All five Denver starters logged at least 32 minutes. The lone reserve to produce a positive plus/minus was veteran swingman Justin Holiday.
With the game in the balance, the Nuggets turned to experienced hands and secured a win against a worthy Western Conference foe. With their next game against the presumably shakier Rockets, Denver could afford to push all of its chips to the center of the table.
“We talked about it at halftime not playing until Sunday,” Malone said of the heavy minutes workload down the stretch. “I couldn’t be more proud of our group. I think 8-1 is our record. We’ve played, with a few other teams, the most games in the NBA to this point. To be undefeated at home and to get off to the start that we’ve gotten off to, I couldn’t be more proud of that group.
“They haven’t used anything as an excuse or a crutch. We’ve found a way to fight through it.”
The Nuggets played their second game without guard Jamal Murray, whose hamstring injury will sideline him for the remainder of the month at minimum. Murray was brilliant during the Nuggets’ title run last season. The offensive verve with which he plays will be sorely missed.
However, even without Murray, the Nuggets keep winning. Veteran Reggie Jackson replaced Murray in the starting lineup and, against the Warriors, produced 20 points, six assists and zero turnovers. His play was emblematic of a team consistently capable of finding the correct gear.
“Reggie has been fantastic for us,” Malone said. “He plays with the starters, he plays with the second unit. He’s able to do both.”
After catching a rhythm with three consecutive blowout victories, the Rockets faced a stiff test against the short-handed New Orleans Pelicans on Friday. Houston passed that exam with flying colors, rallying from a double-digit, second-half deficit to carve out a 104-101 win that extended its winning streak to five games.
Consistency eluded the Rockets throughout against the Pelicans, who grabbed a 100-95 lead on a pair of Dyson Daniels free throws with 1:56 remaining. Suddenly, the Rockets found a switch and flipped it, fashioning a 9-1 closing run with a blend of stifling defense and timely shooting.
The defensive effort that has highlighted the Rockets’ winning streak showed up late. Guard Fred VanVleet handled the rest offensively, drilling a pair of critical 3-pointers to complete the comeback.
Having had their way with the Sacramento Kings and Los Angeles Lakers earlier in the week, the Rockets welcomed the challenge the Pelicans presented and relished in the result.
“It’s almost more satisfying to win it like this than the blowouts,” Rockets coach Ime Udoka said. “Figure out how to get it done, go through some adversity, and win on nights when you don’t play your best is more gratifying.”
–Field Level Media