With time running out on their season, the Dallas Mavericks can't afford to let any more potential victories slip away if they want to reach the playoffs for a 13th consecutive season.
The visiting Mavericks look to avoid a third straight loss while trying to sweep the season series from the Sacramento Kings on Friday night.
Dallas (36-39) carried a seven-point lead into the fourth quarter Thursday night at Denver before it was outscored 25-17 in the final period to fall 95-94. The Mavericks, who lost by 20 to the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday, dropped the first two of a four-game trip that followed a 4-2 homestand.
"We just have to keep going; we have to turn this around (Friday) night and that's where it's at," said Dallas coach Rick Carlisle, whose club was outrebounded 18-9 on the offensive glass at Denver. "It is very disappointing; we fought hard. We did a lot of good things but when teams turn up the heat, we have to be able to get a big rebound in a crowd. We have to be able to execute and get a good shot and we didn't do it in the last minute."
The Mavericks have not missed the postseason since 1999-2000, but are 10th in the Western Conference and three games behind the Lakers for the eighth and final playoff spot with seven remaining.
Brandan Wright had a team-high 16 points off the bench as Dallas held the Nuggets to 39.3 percent shooting but allowed them to rally in the fourth and ultimately win on Andre Iguodala's layup with 2.8 seconds.
It did not help that veteran forward Elton Brand missed the contest with a sore calf that has bothered him all week.
"We gave this one away," forward Shawn Marion said. "We had a chance to win this game, and close out, but it didn't happen."
If the Mavericks are to make one final playoff push, a visit to Sacramento might be a good place to start.
Dallas has won four in a row and 14 of 15 against the Kings (27-48). The Mavericks won both home meetings this season by a combined 46 points but needed overtime to win 117-112 at Sacramento on Jan. 10.
Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki, who went scoreless in the fourth quarter Thursday after scoring one in the final period Tuesday, has been held to 24 total points in the first two games of the trip after averaging 29.7 in the previous three contests. He's averaged 13.3 points and shot 33.3 percent in the last three at Sacramento.
However, 36-year-old teammate Vince Carter has combined for 49 points in the last two against the Kings.
With the distraction of where the franchise will play next season still lingering, the Kings dropped their second straight overall and third in a row at home, 112-102 to Houston on Wednesday. Tyreke Evans had 22 points, Marcus Thornton scored 21 and DeMarcus Cousins added 20, but Sacramento shot 39.1 percent and looked out of sorts while playing for the first time in four days.
"Those (three) days we had off (were) kind of hard for us to come back and to be in real game rhythm,'' guard Isaiah Thomas said. "We started off slow and it kind of haunted us all night.''
Evans has totaled 43 points in two games after being held to 47 in the previous four. He combined for 43 on 16-of-23 (69.6 percent) shooting in the last two against the Mavericks.