A four-game trip will take the Denver Nuggets into the All-Star break. Opening against the New York Knicks could be just what they need to get the swing off to a strong start.
The Nuggets will try to avoid a letdown against the slumping Knicks on Friday night at Madison Square Garden.
Denver (24-23) salvaged a split of a four-game homestand with a 110-100 win over NBA-worst Milwaukee on Wednesday after beating the Los Angeles Clippers 116-115 on Randy Foye's 3-pointer at the buzzer two days earlier.
Nuggets coach Brian Shaw is concerned with his team's habit of playing to the level of their competition. Along with the Clippers, they've defeated Indiana, Oklahoma City and Memphis during a 10-7 stretch, but have also lost to Philadelphia, Utah and Cleveland.
"For whatever reason, not bringing the same energy," Shaw said. "We don't look forward to the matchups when those marquee names aren't out there. We are not going to meet the challenge. We have to find a way to bring it consistently regardless who our opponent is."
The Nuggets may heed Shaw's message against the Knicks (19-30), who are among the worst home teams in the league at 11-17.
New York has followed a four-game winning streak with a three-game slide during which it's averaging 93.0 points. The Knicks went 4 for 21 from beyond the arc in a 94-90 home loss to Portland on Wednesday.
"We gotta stick together as a team. No one person is going to do it," star forward Carmelo Anthony said. "Everybody has gotta play their part in us turning this thing around. Our main focus is to win as many games as we can right now to prepare ourselves to make a push for the postseason."
Anthony can't be faulted for New York's struggles. He's averaging 29.3 points while connecting on 40.5 percent from beyond the arc in six games since setting a franchise record with 62 points in a 125-96 win over Charlotte on Jan. 24.
Anthony scored 34 in a 112-106 win over the Nuggets in the most recent meeting at the Garden on Dec. 9, 2012. He had 27 in a 97-95 road loss to his former team on Nov. 29, and his potential tying jumper with 3 seconds left in regulation was blocked by Foye.
J.R. Smith, another former Nugget, is averaging 21.8 points while hitting 51.7 percent of his field goals - including 13 of 27 from 3-point range - over the past four games. He had 11 points and missed 6 of 7 from behind the arc at Denver earlier this season.
Wilson Chandler is returning to MSG for the first time since being involved in the three-team, 13-player trade that sent Anthony and Smith to the Knicks on Feb. 22, 2011.
"A lot of people have been through there - singers, boxers, actors so it's a real bright stage," Chandler told the Nuggets' official website. "You always want to play good there no matter if you're a former Knick or not."
Chandler, who sat out his previous chance to play at the Garden with Denver because of a hip injury, has had at least 20 points in three of six games after scoring 24 while making 11 of 19 from the floor Wednesday.
The forward had 13 points against the Knicks on Nov. 29, while Ty Lawson had 22 with eight assists. The guard scored 23 in his last visit to New York.