NBA: Slumping Nuggets look to get well against hobbled Pistons

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The Denver Nuggets are sleepwalking through the final few weeks of the season and coach Michael Malone wants them to snap out of it.

Denver, which goes on the road to face the depleted Detroit Pistons on Thursday, has lost a season-worst four straight games. The Nuggets still have the best record in the Western Conference but Malone feels his team is taking nights off.

“Right now we’re just in chill mode, and you can’t be in chill mode with 13 games to go in the season,” Malone said. “We’ve got to try to find a way to get our swagger back.”

Denver gave up 49 first-quarter points at Toronto in a 125-110 loss on Tuesday. The Raptors led by as many as 24 points.

“They were playing harder,” Nuggets center Nikola Jokic said. “They were into us.”

The Nuggets have also lost to Chicago, San Antonio and Brooklyn during the skid. The Brooklyn Nets are the only team with a winning record among the last four opponents.

Boredom and complacency appear to be factors. The Nuggets are seemingly waiting for the postseason to begin, rather than trying to build the best record possible.

“Maybe we’ve gotten a little soft with success,” Malone said. “We’ve been on cruise control for so long, No. 1 in the West since like Dec. 15. I just told our players we’ve gotten away from who we are.”

Denver never led against the Raptors, though the Nuggets cut their deficit to six points by the end of the third quarter. They were limited to 18 fourth-quarter points.

“When you expend so much energy getting back in the game you have nothing left to finish,” Malone said, adding, “Who the (heck) are we to think we can play three quarters and win a game? I think at some point, pride comes into play. You don’t want to get embarrassed.”

The Nuggets’ loss also dropped their road record below .500 at 16-17. It was the opener of a five-game trip.

Though Malone may not want to hear it, the Nuggets probably don’t have to play at peak efficiency to defeat the depleted Pistons. Detroit dressed only nine players — including both of its two-way players and Eugene Omoruyi, who’s on a 10-day contract — in a 117-97 loss at Washington on Tuesday. Omoruyi sprained his ankle in the first half but was able to return.

The depleted Pistons have lost 12 of their last 13 games, with the lone victory coming against Indiana on Monday.

Detroit has only 16 wins but coach Dwane Casey said the focus is player development.

“A young man like James Wiseman, a young man like Jaden Ivey, Jalen Duren, those guys’ growth is our ‘record.’ We don’t talk about wins, we talk about having small victories — rebounding, transition defense — the little things that probably the everyday fan wouldn’t pay attention to,” Casey said.

Ivey has missed the last three games after being placed in health and safety protocols. Forwards Bojan Bogdanovic (Achilles), Isaiah Livers (hip) and Marvin Bagley III (ankle) and guard Alec Burks (foot) didn’t play against the Wizards due to injury and three other players have already been declared out for the season.

Detroit defeated Denver 110-108 on Nov. 22 despite Jokic racking up 31 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds for the Nuggets.

–Field Level Media

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