Nets look for Rocky Mountain high against the Nuggets

Markel Brown (left) has had some solid games against the Nuggets. (AP)
Markel Brown (left) has had some solid games against the Nuggets. (AP)
Markel Brown (left) has had some solid games against the Nuggets. (AP)

Opponent: Denver Nuggets
Location: Pepsi Center (Denver)
Time: 9:00 PM EDT
Watch: YES Network, Fox Sports GO app

The Nets lost a winnable game to the Kobe Bryant-less Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday night, thus escaping Los Angeles with zero wins in their pocket. Lakers point guard D’Angelo Russell’s career-high 39 points night sent the Nets to their 44th loss of the season, matching their total from last season with 21 games to go. Still with four games to go on their annual circus road trip, the Nets make their way back east tonight, first stopping in Denver.

First-year Head Coach Mike Malone’s Denver Nuggets (24-37) faced off against Russell and the Lakers at home on Wednesday, but with better results than the Nets: despite Russell’s 24 points and six assists, the Nuggets beat the Lakers 117-107, thanks in part to a 34-point fourth quarter and a 52.2 percent shooting night (12-of-23) from three point range. D.J. Augustin scored a season-high 26 points (7-of-11 FGs) off the bench in his seventh game with the Nuggets since arriving at the trading deadline, while rookie Emmaunel Mudiay notched 22 points (10-20 FG) and seven assists of his own. Mudiay, 19 years old, was taken five picks after Russell in last year’s draft with the Nuggets’ seventh overall pick.

With only 21 games left to go, the Nuggets appear ticketed for their third straight year of playoff free basketball as they sit 11th in the Western Conference playoff standings, six games behind the eighth place Houston Rockets. Mudiay and last year’s first round pick (via Chicago) Gary Harris are still developing on the NBA level and the remaining cast, to no surprise, has been outmatched in the Western Conference.

Eighth-year forward and leading scorer Danilo Gallinari was on pace to miss the least amount of games (6) due to injury in his career since playing in every game during the 2009-10 season with the New York Knicks, but alas: on February 27th, Gallinari was diagnosed with two torn lateral ligaments in his right ankle and will miss at least a month of action. Gallinari, who’s averaged 56 games played a season since entering the league in 2008, could miss more time if the Nuggets season trajectory keeps going down.

“I’ve already thought about that. I don’t have an answer,” Coach Malone said. “I think it’s a very good question. At that point, depending on where we are, it’s going to depend on four games to go, what is the picture?”

In their last meeting on February 8th, the Nets won 105-104 in Brooklyn, thanks to a buzzer beater by since-departed Joe Johnson. The shot proved to be the last cameo appearance from what Nets fans have known as “Joe Jesus”: a clutch phenomenon summoned for the purposes of game-ending enlightenment. Thaddeus Young led the Nets with 20 points and Markel Brown contributed a career-high 19 off the bench.

Brown also had one of his best games as a pro last year in Denver on February 25th. Brown made his first career start and posted his only career double-double with 10 points, a career-high 11 rebounds and a career-high four blocks in a career-high 45 minutes. Maybe that Rocky Mountain high will set in tonight?

Kenneth Faried, who led the Nuggets with 22 points and 13 rebounds in the loss in Brooklyn, is expected to play tonight despite dealing with a back injury. Faried is averaging 12.5 points and 8.7 rebounds while shooting 56.5 percent from the field.

What to watch for: Post-break larceny. The Nets have recorded at least ten steals in four of their last five games (and five of their last seven games following the All-Star break) and are second in the league since the break in steals per game (10.6), trailing only Houston (12.8).