HEADLINE

Nuggets go for third straight win against reeling Knicks

The Sports Xchange

December 31, 2018 at 7:27 pm.

The Denver Nuggets are atop the Western Conference, have won two in a row and are getting healthier. The last thing they can afford to do is overlook a struggling, fractured New York team on New Year’s Day.

The Nuggets (23-11) have lost these types of trap games in the past — at home, against an inferior opponent. But this Denver team is different. It’s one that plays good defense and can get scoring from multiple positions.

The Knicks (9-28) will try to derail the Nuggets and get their own season back on track. New York has lost seven straight and is dealing with some internal strife. The Knicks are coming off a blowout loss in Utah, a game in which the Jazz led by as many as 46, and forward Enes Kanter is unhappy with his role.

Kanter is a free agent at the end of this year and has come off the bench the last two games. According to Newsday, Kanter all but asked to be traded, adding to the upheaval.

“Hey, it happens,” coach David Fizdale told Newsday. “Oh, trust me I have (been a part of losses like Saturday’s). I went in with deeper teams, more veteran teams. But even the best teams I’ve been on even at home we’ve been smacked by 40. It happens in this league. It happens to the best of them.

“We’ve seen that numerous times already this year. My job is to keep these guys focused on getting better and every night coming out and competing.”

Denver will see a familiar face on Tuesday night. New York point guard Emmanuel Mudiay was the Nuggets’ first-round draft pick in 2015 and was thought to be the future at the position, but he was traded to the Knicks last season after Jamal Murray supplanted him.

Mudiay has had a revival this year with New York, averaging 14.2 points a game. He is questionable with a right ankle sprain.

If Mudiay can’t play it will be tougher to stop the surging Nuggets. Denver has seven players averaging in double figures in scoring, with Murray leading at 18.6 points a game. Center Nikola Jokic is nearly averaging a triple-double with 18 points, 9.8 rebounds and 7.4 assists per game.

Denver sits atop the West despite dealing with a rash of injuries. Starters Will Barton, Gary Harris and Paul Millsap have missed multiple games, although Millsap returned from a broken right toe to score six points in 14 minutes against Phoenix on Saturday night.

Harris and Barton are close to returning. Guard Nick Young, who was signed under the injury exception in December, was waived on Sunday.

Getting Harris and Barton back soon would help considering Murray is playing on a sore ankle he rolled in a win over San Antonio on Friday night. He played through pain against the Suns, scoring 46 points and hitting a career-best nine 3-pointers.

“I ain’t gonna lie to you guys. It hurts a lot,” Murray told the Denver Post after Saturday’s game. “I was trying not to move as much, kind of rely on my shot. I kept relying on it. As the game went on, more adrenaline started to kick in.”