The Washington Wizards have fallen into a tailspin at the wrong time, though the teams directly in front of them in the playoff chase seem willing to let them hang around.
Things won't get easier in the finale of their trip against a Denver Nuggets team seeking its longest winning streak of the season.
After the rookie was in awe of All-Star John Wall in the first meeting, Emmanuel Mudiay will try to extend his surge and lead the Nuggets to their fourth straight victory Saturday night.
The Wizards looked as though they might make a playoff push during a recent four-game winning streak, but they've stumbled since with a season high-tying four straight defeats.
They remained 2 1/2 games back of the Eastern Conference's final spot following Friday's 114-93 loss at Utah when eighth-place Detroit and ninth-place Chicago also went down.
''We didn't come out with any sense of urgency,'' coach Randy Wittman said. ''I don't know how we can do that with 18 games left."
Washington (30-34) had played better defensively during a 7-2 stretch, allowing an average of 98.4 points and a 43.6 field-goal percentage. However, that effort has slipped while the club has surrendered 109.5 points on 48 percent during its losing streak.
"We can't keep anybody in front of us," Wittman said.
The Wizards certainly had trouble slowing the Nuggets in a 117-113 home loss Jan. 28. Danilo Gallinari finished with 26 points, Mudiay added 20 and Nikola Jokic had 15 with 10 rebounds as Denver shot 50.6 percent and made 9 for 18 from beyond the arc.
Gallinari won't be around for this one due to torn ligaments in his ankle, but Mudiay looks to build on a career-high 30-point effort in Thursday's 116-98 home win over Phoenix. He's averaged 21.6 points while hitting 11 for 25 from long distance in his last five games.
''Coach has confidence in me and told me to stay aggressive," the seventh overall pick said after Denver matched a season high with its third consecutive victory.
Mudiay seemed to soak in every moment of his first encounter with Wall in January.
"He said to me during the game, `John Wall is the quickest guy I've ever played against,"' coach Michael Malone said. "And I said, `You're not even guarding him, Gary Harris is."'
Harris will likely be matched up on Washington's top scorer again after holding him to 17 points on 5-of-17 shooting. Garrett Temple had 20 for the Wizards and Bradley Beal scored 17. Beal, however, could miss a third straight game because of a lingering hip injury.
Markieff Morris is averaging 12.3 points and 7.2 rebounds in six games as a starter.
Denver (27-38) has tightened things up in its last two games, allowing an average of 96 points on 40.2 percent shooting - including 12 of 46 (26.1 percent) from 3-point range. The club had been giving up 104.5 and a 46.1 field-goal percentage heading into those contests.
The Nuggets, six games back of the West's final playoff spot, have scored 115.8 per game in their last five. Jokic has chipped in by averaging 16.5 points and 10.8 boards in his past four.
They had dropped four of six in this series before winning in January.