NBA

Nuggets remain in playoff hunt, face skidding Kings

The Denver Nuggets got a big win against the Boston Celtics on Friday night, but that merely kept them in the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference.

To stay there, Denver needs to keep winning because the Portland Trail Blazers and Dallas Mavericks are suddenly hot. Both have won four in a row to get within a game and two games, respectively, of the Nuggets, who know their pursuers are not going away.

That's why Friday's 119-99 win over Boston was big.

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"It was a huge win. We needed this win," said Wilson Chandler, who had 23 points and eight rebounds against the Celtics. "We dropped a game (Wednesday) and then Portland won. Dallas' schedule is pretty weak this next week so we need that win."

Denver's schedule is tough in that it plays right away in Sacramento on Saturday night. The Kings also played Friday night, but it was a home game against Washington, the team that beat the Nuggets (30-35) on Wednesday.

While the Kings didn't have to get on a plane after their game, it did start 90 minutes after Denver's and it went to overtime, where the Wizards prevailed, 130-122.

It's the second time in a week the Kings (25-40) play the Nuggets a day after going to overtime, and they're facing them riding a seven-game losing streak.

The Kings' last win was against Denver in Sacramento on Feb. 23, but they've had their chances since. They held a 28-point lead on San Antonio on Wednesday but saw the Spurs rally to win at home. It was another deflating loss in a season that has gone south on the Kings.

One reason for Sacramento's seven straight losses is adjusting to the new roster. The Kings traded a franchise player in DeMarcus Cousins three weeks ago and it has been a slow process getting used to the new team.

"It's been tough, just trying to get used to each other," guard Ty Lawson said. "We've got to get another (win) soon."

The Nuggets aren't planning on it being Saturday night. They know every win is important if they are to make the playoffs for the first time in four seasons. Only Chandler, Danilo Gallinari and Kenneth Faried remain from the team that went 57-25 but was upset in the first round by Golden State.

Fighting for a playoff spot is new to most of the Denver players.

"It's fun for our rookies and second-year players to be in a situation like this," Chandler said. "I know it means a lot to the guys who have been in this situation where you need to win to make the playoffs."

If Denver can bring the defensive effort it did on Friday, the opportunity for a win is even better. So is the return of center Nikola Jokic, who sat out Monday's 108-96 win over the Kings with the flu. He had 21 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists in his first game back Friday, but he isn't celebrating one win in a tight race.

"If we don't win (Saturday) this is nothing," he said. "We need to get as many wins as we can."