The Denver Nuggets are headed to the draft lottery for the first time in more than a decade, but that doesn’t mean they’ve stopped trying to add to the win column.
After a dramatic victory at Golden State, the Nuggets look to win a third straight game for the first time in three months when they host the Utah Jazz on Saturday night.
Denver (35-44) trailed by one in the closing seconds Thursday against the Warriors before Kenneth Faried hit a turnaround hook shot with a half-second to go for a 100-99 win that snapped a six-game road losing streak.
Following a 123-116 home win against Houston one night earlier, the Nuggets are on the verge of their first winning streak since a five-game run Jan. 3-11.
"This is all about momentum for us going into next season," coach Brian Shaw said. "We’ve been talking (about) the way we’re going to need to play, regardless of who’s out there, and the effort that we need to compete every night. These guys can play with anybody if they play the right way."
The Nuggets, who have been plagued by several key injuries this season, will miss the playoffs for the first time since 2003.
Because of its juggled lineups, Denver has needed several players to take on new roles as the season progressed. One of them is fourth-year center Timofey Mozgov, who tied a career best with 23 points and set a career high with 29 rebounds against Golden State.
The rebounding total was the third-most in Nuggets history.
"We’re not in the playoffs, but we’re not giving up," Mozgov said. "So, we want to fight."
The Jazz (24-55) have been lottery-bound for a while behind the worst record in the Western Conference. Utah’s struggles have been particularly glaring on the road, where its lost 12 of its last 13 and been outscored by 15.8 points in that span.
A poor fourth quarter cost the Jazz in a 111-99 loss Friday against Portland, which outscored Utah 35-23 over the final 12 minutes. The game was tied after the third, but the Jazz allowed the Trail Blazers to go 7 of 8 from 3-point range in the fourth.
"We just have to learn how to finish," said center Enes Kanter, who had 15 points and 13 rebounds. "The last quarter, they went pretty hard and got ahead of us and we just couldn’t answer."
Among the few bright spots for the Jazz lately has been the play of rookie point guard Trey Burke, who has 31 assists against only three turnovers in the last three games.
On the season, Burke has a 2.96 assist-to-turnover ratio, the highest among rookies who have started a majority of their team’s games.
The Jazz have won two of three meetings versus Denver this season.