With their longest winning streak of the season over, the Denver Nuggets’ focus has shifted to regaining momentum heading into the playoffs.
The Nuggets begin the final stretch of the regular season on Monday night when they host a struggling Minnesota Timberwolves squad that’s trying to avoid matching a season-high six-game skid.
Denver (43-37) had reeled off eight straight wins to begin April, but allowed its most points in a game this season after losing 133-118 to lowly Memphis on Saturday. Carmelo Anthony, who had 28 points, is averaging 30.6 in his last five matchups with the Timberwolves (32-48).
Against the league-worst Grizzlies, Nene notched 22 points on 10-for-12 shooting along with 10 rebounds and J.R. Smith added 19 points off the bench for the Nuggets, who have shot 52 percent from the field in three straight games.
“When you reflect on how we’ve been playing the whole month of April, you feel like this was a game we should have won,” said Nuggets center Marcus Camby, who recorded 14 points and 11 rebounds. “We didn’t want to give back any momentum we’ve gained.”
Denver, which has been eliminated in the first round in their last four playoff appearances, holds the sixth spot in the Western Conference and will face third seed San Antonio in a quarterfinal matchup after playing the Spurs in the regular-season finale on Wednesday night.
But before that meeting, the Nuggets will try to match their season-high four-game home-winning streak set Nov. 18-26 and go for their seventh win in eight games at the Pepsi Center
The Timberwolves are a dismal 12-28 on the road, but posted a 112-109 win in Denver on Nov. 3. Minnesota is 2-1 versus the Nuggets this season, including a 99-94 victory in their last meeting on Feb. 14.
The Timberwolves fell 121-108 to Golden State on Sunday despite a season-high 42 from Ricky Davis. Minnesota has played its last three contests without leading scorer Kevin Garnett, who is sidelined with a sore right quadriceps and are non-committal about his return this season.
Wolves coach Randy Wittman said not having Garnett in the lineup is no excuse for playing poorly, but is unsure who to turn to.
“I’m not blaming this loss on not having Kevin, absolutely not,” he said. “We don’t have Kevin, but we don’t have a lot of options in the paint. Who are you going to post up?”
Rookie Craig Smith, making his third straight start, had 14 points and 12 rebounds for his second career double-double.
Center Mark Blount was not in the starting lineup Sunday for the first time this season, and is averaging 5.9 points over his last eight games—a big drop from his 12.3 season average. He scored 24 points on 11-of-19 shooting and grabbed eight rebounds in the win over Denver in February.
Minnesota also may be without guard Marko Jaric, who has missed the last two games with injuries to both hands.