The Denver Nuggets steam-rolled the Chicago Bulls last night on their way to a 135-102 victory on the road. On “Serbian Heritage Night” Nikola Jokic led the way with 21 points, seven rebounds and five assists with Wilson Chandler not far behind with 19 points of his own. The Nuggets shot a whopping 61% from the floor and hit 20 of their 35 three-point attempts. As a team they also shot 87% from the free throw line and overall posted a 75% true shooting percentage. Amidst the joy and relief of winning a game handily on the road after dropping the previous two games in a row, is the sobering reality that the Nuggets are still 1.5 games out of the playoffs with ten games left against all playoff contending teams.
Out of those ten remaining games, six of them are on the road. The Nuggets are currently 1-2 on their seven game road trip and are 12-23 overall this year when away from the Pepsi Center. They face the Washington Wizards, Philadelphia 76ers, Oklahoma City Thunder and the Toronto Raptors to finish the road trip. Denver is a combined 3-3 against these teams with all three losses coming on the road. This is not very encouraging for a team that is still missing its leading scorer and best perimeter defender in Gary Harris. The addition of Paul Millsap has resulted in the Nuggets being a .500 level team despite being statistically better according to Net Rating (0.2 NRtg prior to 2/27/18 – 2.8 NRtg since 2/27/18). The defense as a whole, especially the perimeter defense has lacked in Harris’ absence and its leading to the team relying on explosive offense to win games; they’ve scored 276 total points in the last two games. If this Nuggets team wants to make the playoffs, then they’ll have to defend as if their lives depend on it for the next few weeks, because it actually does.
The Utah Jazz are currently in the eighth seed in the standings with a pretty favorable schedule in comparison to that of the Nuggets. In their 11 remaining games, they face the Dallas Mavericks, San Antonio Spurs, Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies, Los Angeles Lakers twice, Golden State Warriors twice, Portland Trailblazers and the Minnesota Timberwolves. Their combined record against all of these teams is 15-5. If the Nuggets win out and finish at 49-33 for the year the Utah Jazz would only have to go 9-2 to beat them out for the eighth spot in the West.
The Minnesota Timberwolves have a two game lead on the Denver Nuggets and also have a more favorable schedule remaining, even with their best player, Jimmy Butler, sidelined with a knee injury. In their remaining 10 games, they face five non-playoff teams, and one of them twice. They are a combined 11-3 this season against all remaining opponents, and will look to complete the season sweep of the Denver Nuggets as they face them two more times to finish the year.