Kings, Nuggets continue chase for playoff spots

Nine years ago, it took the Denver Nuggets 50 wins to just sneak into the playoffs as a No. 8 seed. This year, it might not take a winning record to reach the postseason in the Western Conference, and that appears to be fine with the young teams trying to get into the playoffs.

Two of them meet in Denver on Tuesday night when the Sacramento Kings take on the Nuggets.

Entering the matchup, the Kings (14-19) hold the eighth spot while the Nuggets (14-20) are a half-game behind after their 127-119 loss at Golden State on Monday night. Both teams are on two-game losing streaks, and one will leave Pepsi Center sitting in a playoff position.

With more than half the season left, it seems premature to consider playoff implications; but, for two organizations that haven’t been to the postseason in a few years, being in contention is buzz-worthy.

“Our goal is to make the playoffs this year,” Nuggets guard Gary Harris said. “If we play how we’re supposed to play and finish games — you’re going to have some off nights here and there — but if we keep coming with the effort, I like our chances.”

Harris is in his third year and has yet to come close to sniffing the postseason. However, he is a big reason Denver is confident. Since returning from a foot injury that cost him 16 games, the Nuggets are 5-4.

“His returning to the starting lineup is not a coincidence that we’ve played very well since he’s been back,” Denver coach Michael Malone said. “Gary’s a guy that, on both ends of the floor, provides a lot for us and also gives his teammates a lot of confidence because they like playing with him.”

The Kings hope to use Tuesday’s game as a springboard to an important seven-game homestand. Sacramento has some winnable games on the upcoming schedule, but also hosts Cleveland, Golden State and the L.A. Clippers.

After a sluggish loss to Memphis on Saturday night, Dave Joerger, in his first season with the Kings, is planning on shaking up his rotation. Part of it is due to injuries to Arron Afflalo, Ty Lawson (two former Denver players) and Rudy Gay, but it is also to get an extended look at some young players.

Malachi Richardson played 10 minutes in the loss to the Grizzlies while Skal Labissierre and George Papagiannis got limited minutes.

“I’m going to start playing some of the younger players,” Joerger told The Sacramento Bee.

The key, as always, for the Kings is center DeMarcus Cousins. The talented big man has dealt with off-court issues this season, but he is still the driving force behind Sacramento.

The Nuggets will use plenty of size to try to stop Cousins, but the bench might be a little thin. Kenneth Faried (back) and Darrell Arthur (knee), two big men who could guard Cousins, missed the loss at Golden State.

Denver could use the pair against Cousins. He has been playing well of late, averaging 34.5 points, 9.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 2.0 blocks in a recent four-game winning streak.

The 112-98 loss to the Grizzlies was the Kings’ second straight after those four wins.

“A disappointing game from our standpoint,” Joerger said. “It was not one of our better performances.”

A win Tuesday could take the bad taste of the home loss to the Grizzlies, even if it means keeping the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference for a couple of more days.