|Nuggets not overlooking woeful Grizzlies|
The Denver Nuggets embark on the most critical stretch of their season with what they are labeling a "must-win" game Saturday night when they take on the Memphis Grizzlies in Memphis, Tenn.
The matchup begins a seven-game trip for the Nuggets, their longest of the season, at a time when every win figures to be critical in a crowded race for the final playoff spots in the Western Conference.
The two-week trip gets tougher at the end, so the Nuggets see the first three games -- at Memphis, Miami and Chicago -- as potential momentum builders.
But first things first, standout guard Jamal Murray insisted on the eve of the trip.
"We have to prepare for Memphis like it's our last game," Murray said. "When Miami comes up, prepare for Miami."
The Nuggets struggled to beat the Grizzlies 108-102 the last time the teams met in Memphis on March 2. Gary Harris had a game-high 26 points that night.
But Harris injured his right knee in Thursday's 120-113 home win over Detroit, and his status for Saturday's game remains in limbo.
Not that the Grizzlies will have all hands on deck, either. They continue to be without their best player, guard Mike Conley, who has been shelved for the season with an Achilles issue.
Tyreke Evans, who has been a godsend with Conley out of action, returned from a 10-game absence to pour in 25 points in Thursday's 111-110 home loss to Chicago.
The defeat extended the Grizzlies' losing streak to 19 games.
The loss was Memphis' 50th of the season -- assuring their first 50-defeat campaign since 2009 -- but few, if any, have been more excruciating.
The Grizzlies appeared on the verge of their first win since Jan. 29 against Phoenix before Evans fouled the Bulls' Antonio Blakeney on a 3-point attempt with 1.8 seconds remaining.
Blakeney made two of his three fouls shots, erasing a one-point Memphis lead and putting the Bulls up 111-110.
To add insult to injury, the Grizzlies still managed to almost win the game, with JaMychal Green dunking through a Marc Gasol miss at or slightly after the final horn.
As both teams awaited the close call, a video review showed the hoop to have occurred after the horn sounded, sending the Grizzlies to yet another defeat.
"We played hard," a thoroughly disappointed Evans declared afterward. "But at the end, I made a (stupid) foul, and that's on me."
After facing the Grizzlies, Heat and Bulls, the Nuggets will see three of the top teams in the Eastern Conference -- Washington, Philadelphia and Toronto -- before heading back west to finish the trip against Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Their next home game isn't until April 1 against the Milwaukee Bucks, beginning a closing stretch in which Denver plays four of six at home.
The Nuggets have lost two in a row on the road, dropping their road record to 11-21, worst among the Western playoff hopefuls.
Memphis, has the league's worst winning percentage at home (.265), having just won 13 of 36 games at FedExForum.