Wolves fall to Nuggets, slip to eighth
DENVER — The Denver Nuggets have stopped scoreboard watching and suddenly started winning.
A novel concept, with coach Michael Malone posting the standings on the board for basically the last time after a loss in Toronto. Since then, they’ve won four straight to make things interesting down the stretch.
Jamal Murray had 22 points to lead six Denver players in double figures, Nikola Jokic sealed the game with a late tip-in and the Nuggets beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 100-96 on Thursday night in a pivotal matchup between teams vying for a playoff spot.
The victory moved Denver (44-35) into a tie, record-wise, with Minnesota for the eighth spot with three games remaining. Both are a half-game behind New Orleans.
“Prior to the winning streak, I think we were (looking at the standings) and putting too much pressure on ourselves,” Paul Millsap said. “We’re just back to ourselves and playing basketball. On nights we’re not shooting well, we’re still playing and still having fun.”
Jokic finished with 16 points and 14 rebounds, while reserve Devin Harris added 20 points for the Nuggets. The playoff jockeying between these two teams could go down to the wire with Minnesota hosting Denver in the regular season finale Wednesday.
“We knew this was a big one coming in,” Denver’s Mason Plumlee said. “But as big as this is, we have to forget about it.”
Karl-Anthony Towns had 26 points and grabbed 13 rebounds before fouling out with 1:46 remaining.
Up 98-96 with 6.6 seconds left, Will Barton took a shot that bounced off the rim and in Jokic’s direction, and he batted it in with 4.3 seconds on the clock to wrap up the win. Jokic was an uncharacteristic 6 of 20 from the field.
“Joker couldn’t make a shot to save his life,” Murray joked. “Comes in and gets a tip-in. That’s what he does. That’s who he is, man.”
Minnesota had a familiar face available and sitting on the bench in Jimmy Butler, but he didn’t get into the game. Butler has been out since suffering a right knee injury on Feb. 23 at Houston. The Wolves are 8-9 since Butler was sidelined.
“So just taking everything into consideration, we just thought it was best to wait another day,” Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau said.
This game featured quite a showdown between two elite big men in Towns and Jokic. They pushed and shoved each other around before Towns fouled out with 1:46 remaining while trying to cover Murray on the perimeter.
“You want to be out there, you want to be helping the team,” Towns said. “You just got to find ways to win regardless of the situation.”
No time for looking back, though.
“We can’t take back what happened tonight,” Towns said. “There’s no time to weep.”
Timberwolves: G Jeff Teague (knee) was back after missing a game and scored 15 points. Derrick Rose (ankle) had four. … Towns earned his 65th double-double of the season.
Nuggets: G Gary Harris missed a 10th straight game with a strained right knee. “Longer than I think anybody anticipated,” Malone said. “Just not where it needs to be for him to come back.” … Jokic had nine assists.
Towns momentarily stayed down early in the third after taking an elbow to the face from Millsap. Towns remained in the game.
Moments later, Murray took an accidental hand to the face from Towns while trying to grab a rebound. Murray hit the floor before slowly getting back up.
NOT BUYING IT
In his pregame chat, Malone said he didn’t buy that Butler would sit out despite being listed as doubtful.
“Believe that if you want,” Malone said. “I got a bridge to sell you.”
Water under the bridge — Butler didn’t play.
HARRIS TO THE RESCUE
Denver caught fire late in the third behind the shooting of Harris, who had nine points to help the team close out the quarter on an 11-0 run.
“It was my night to make shots,” Harris said. “It’s going to be somebody else’s the next night. Going into this playoff push, it’s got to be all hand’s on deck.”
Timberwolves: Travel to Los Angeles to play the Lakers on Friday.
Nuggets: Denver plays two of its final three games on the road, including Saturday in Los Angeles against the Clippers.