Paul Millsap slunk into a black leather chair in front of his Nuggets locker Sunday night when asked the question. He paused. Put a hand to his chin deep in thought. And still, the 13-year NBA veteran had trouble finding the right words.
What’s been the biggest issue facing Denver’s offense lately?
“I don’t know,” Millsap said. “If we don’t figure it out going on this roadie, it’s going to be tough to win. It’s something we’ve got to look at, for sure, and try to nip it in the bud.”
Denver enters a Tuesday night tilt at Golden State just one game back from the Warriors for the Western Conference top playoff seed, but if the Nuggets’ recent inconsistencies persist, it’s hard to imagine they’ll close the gap. Denver has scored fewer than 100 points in four of its last five outings and no game characterized their recent up-and-down quite like the Nuggets’ 95-90 defeat to lowly Wizards.
Denver breezed through two quarters at Pepsi Center with a double-digit lead at halftime as the Nuggets’ starting five combined for 57-percent shooting from inside the arc while also cashing in seven 3-pointers. Denver returned after the break, though, with a massive letdown behind cringe-worthy numbers.
The Nuggets scored only 10 points in the third quarter, their lowest output in any frame this season, on 5-of-27 shooting from the floor. Point guard Jamal Murray left the game with an ankle injury. A late fourth quarter double-technical for Nikola Jokic ejected the All-Star center. The team combined for nine second-half turnovers. And, with opportunities late to close it with free throws, Denver finished the night 13-of-20 from the stripe.
A stunning reversal from the Nuggets’ Friday road victory against the Thunder on the second night of back-to-back games. So what happened against the Wizards?
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“That second half was really awful,” Jokic said. “We didn’t shoot well. For wide-open shots, we didn’t make those. We were kind of not in a rhythm.”
Added Millsap: “It’s a tough situation. We made a lot of those shots throughout the course of the year.”
It won’t get any easier for Denver (51-25) in its pursuit of Golden State (52-24) atop the Western Conference standings. The Nuggets face playoff teams in five of their final six games. The Warriors matchup with just two postseason-bound squads. Denver couldn’t explain their slump away on Sunday. And there’s no time to waste fixing it.
“We’re fighting for first place,” said guard Malik Beasley said. “We’ve got to come out and be ready to play no matter what.”
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