The Denver Nuggets are mired in their worst stretch of the season, but coach George Karl isn’t ready to panic.
On Wednesday night, the reeling Nuggets look to avoid a season-high fourth straight loss while trying for a third consecutive win over the visiting Oklahoma City Thunder.
Denver (40-25) was second in the Western Conference at the All-Star break, but has gone 4-8 since to drop to seventh in the standings. The Nuggets, who have gone from first to third place in the Northwest Division in less than a week, haven’t lost four in a row since Feb. 14-24, 2007.
“It’s not raining,” Karl said. “It’s just cloudy. The clouds will go away, the sun will come up again.”
At 23-8, Denver is one of the league’s best home teams, but is coming off a 97-95 loss to Houston at the Pepsi Center on Monday. Chauncey Billups had 28 points and Carmelo Anthony added 21 for the Nuggets, who shot 38.1 percent and couldn’t overcome a 19-point third-quarter deficit.
While Billups and Anthony have played well, a lower-back strain continues to plague forward Kenyon Martin, who missed the previous three games and could be out Wednesday after re-aggravating the injury against the Rockets.
Without Martin’s inside presence and key reserve guard Anthony Carter - likely to miss a fifth straight game with a hip strain - the Nuggets have struggled to find the right rotation.
Denver is averaging 97.8 points - 4.8 fewer than its season average - while going 1-5 in March.
“I don’t think there’s anyone in that locker room that’s afraid of the challenge that we have,” Karl said. “It’s just the funk of not playing very well. There seems to be at times to be a mental fatigue to our team.”
Denver appears to have a good chance to bounce back, as its next five opponents all have losing records.
The Nuggets have won both meetings against Oklahoma City (18-46) this season on the road, but only by a combined three points.
Anthony had 32 points and 11 assists in Denver’s 114-113 win over the Thunder on Feb. 4, the teams’ last matchup. The All-Star is averaging 33.7 points in his last three games against the Thunder franchise.
Oklahoma City could pose a tough challenge for the Nuggets again after winning 99-98 at Sacramento on Tuesday. It was the second straight victory and fifth in sixth games for the Thunder - all without injured star Kevin Durant.
“This is a talented young group that really wants to get better,” Thunder veteran Malik Rose said. “We aren’t playing for a playoff spot, we’re playing to get better.”
Green, who returned after missing four games with back spasms, is averaging 25.7 points in his last three games overall and in his last three against Denver.
It’s uncertain when Durant - among the NBA leaders with 26 points per game - will return to the lineup. The Thunder could certainly use the second-year pro, who is averaging 33.7 points in his last three contests versus Denver.