The Denver Nuggets have gone through tough times before, but not many this season. In November they lost four in a row and six of seven but turned things around in a hurry.
They're hoping for that kind of response when they play host to the Miami Heat on Monday night. Denver (37-18) has lost three in a row to wrap up a tough four-game road trip but with its final two games before the All-Star break at home it's an opportunity to grab momentum for the last 25 games of the season.
A good finish, starting with the Heat, will help wash away the bad feeling of the first two losses. Denver came out flat in Detroit and Brooklyn but showed fight in Friday's loss at Philadelphia. The Nuggets are turning the page heading into Monday.
"We can't feel sorry for ourselves," forward Will Barton said.
Nor can they feel sorry for Miami (25-29), which is adjusting to Tyler Johnson and Wayne Ellington being traded to Phoenix last week. The Heat had lost three of their last four ahead of the trade and now are adjusting to life without the two.
The deal did open up opportunities for some younger players, in particular Justise Winslow. The fourth-year player out of Duke is in line for more responsibility and the leadership that brings. Veteran Udonis Haslem sees Winslow developing that leadership.
"I see it," Haslem told the Miami Herald recently. "I see him getting better. I see him being more vocal. I see him putting guys in their spots. I see him holding guys accountable. I see the progression stages with him in that."
Winslow could be the face of the franchise now that Dwyane Wade is on his farewell tour in his second stint in Miami. He helped lead the Heat to their first NBA title in 2006 and then was part of the first modern super team with LeBron James and Chris Bosh that won two more championships.
The shooting guard will make his final stop in Denver after a tough game in Golden State on Sunday night. Miami took the Warriors to the buzzer but fell 120-118 and now has a quick turnaround against a rested Nuggets team. Denver, second in the Western Conference behind Golden State, is poised to end a five-year postseason drought behind triple-double machine Nikola Jokic (11 and counting this season) and a team that is getting healthier.
The Nuggets have played much of the season with one or more of their starters hurt. Guard Gary Harris (adductor strain) and forward Paul Millsap (foot soreness) will miss again but reinforcements might be coming. Guard Isaiah Thomas, who has not played this year will rehabbing from offseason hip surgery, has started to practice with the team. He won't play Monday but he is progressing.
Harris did practice lightly on Sunday but head coach Michael Malone said he will keep him out until after the All-Star break to give him more time to get better.
--Field Level Media