Nuggets still in playoff hunt as they visit Pelicans
NEW ORLEANS — In the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately NBA, the Denver Nuggets are trying their best to treat each day as a new opportunity.
The Nuggets saw their Western Conference playoff hopes improve Monday night without even playing, as the Portland Trail Blazers had their six-game winning streak snapped with a 110-109 road loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The defeat dropped Portland, No. 8 in the West, to 38-39, and narrowed its margin over No. 9 Denver (36-40) to 1 1/2 games. The Blazers still hold a tiebreaker edge over the Nuggets, so Denver would have to finish a game ahead of Portland to make the playoffs.
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The Nuggets can inch closer to the eighth spot with a victory over the No. 10 New Orleans Pelicans (33-44) on Tuesday night at the Smoothie King Center. The Pelicans are five games out of the eighth spot but would be eliminated from playoff contention with either a loss or another Portland victory.
The Nuggets are coming off a 116-113 victory over Miami on Sunday, and they and were sparked by Danilo Gallinari with 29 points by Nikola Jokic and Wilson Chandler with 19 points each.
“It feels good just to have one in a playoff atmosphere,” Jokic said, who acknowledged that the playoffs already have started for the Nuggets.
The Nuggets held out three players on Sunday: Will Barton (foot), Jameer Nelson (calf) and Darrell Arthur (knee). Their status for the Pelicans’ game is undetermined.
The Pelicans and Nuggets have split their first two games this season, with each winning on the other team’s home court. In a 107-102 loss on Oct. 26, Pelicans forward Anthony Davis scored a season-high 50 points with 15 rebounds, five assists, five steals and four blocks.
Davis twisted his right ankle Sunday in a 117-110 loss to Chicago, and he said after the game he would have to see how the ankle feels on Tuesday before determining his readiness.
The Pelicans already are thinking of next year, and a big piece of the offseason puzzle will be whether or not they can sign free agent Jrue Holiday to a long-term deal at upwards of $20 million a year.
Holiday missed the first 18 games of the season to be with his wife, former Team USA soccer star Lauren Holiday, who delivered their first child and then underwent surgery to remove a benign brain tumor.
Lauren and their daughter are doing great — “My life’s been a blessing,” Holiday said — but in his absence, the Pelicans went 6-12. They have been 27-32 since then.
Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said signing Holiday to a long-term deal in the offseason is the team’s major priority, especially as the synergy among Holiday, Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins has grown over the last three weeks.
Gentry sees Holiday as a “combo” guard who is most effective when a true point guard is handling the bulk of a ball-handling responsibilities, which allows Holiday to play off the ball and look more for his shot.
Gentry said he would leave the recruitment process to general manager Dell Demps because Holiday knows how much the coaching staff appreciates him.
“I’m sure Dell will spend time with him,” Gentry said. “I don’t have to say (anything). Good God, he’s very much a part of what we need and what we’ll try to do. That goes without saying. I don’t think that even needs to be discussed on my part.”
Gentry said Holiday “is at his best when he’s thinking about scoring” and not about distributing.
“He has a tendency now, with DeMarcus, to be the ‘point guard,’ but I want Jrue to always be aggressive offensively because we need those 16, 17 points that he gives us pretty much on a nightly basis when he’s that way,” Gentry said.
Gentry is dreaming about what the Pelicans might be able to put together if they had a solid training camp with no injuries to hamper the team’s progress.
“Our whole thing is Jrue came back and we played .500 basketball, basically,” Gentry said. “Then we added another acute personality (Cousins) to our team. I just think if we can get through one training camp where everything is in place and we are injury-free, we can be pretty doggone good.”