Missing out on the playoffs for a third straight season seems inevitable for the Denver Nuggets, but they can gain some ground with another win at New Orleans.
The Nuggets look to capitalize on a meeting with the injury-riddled Pelicans and beat them for a fourth straight time on the road Thursday night.
Denver (32-44) is clinging to faint playoff hopes with six games remaining. The Nuggets are 5 1/2 games back of the three-way tie between Houston, Utah and Dallas for the final two spots in the Western Conference.
They remained alive in the playoff race with Wednesday's 109-105 win at Memphis after losing six of their previous nine games.
"We made enough plays down the stretch," coach Michael Malone said.
Will Barton is putting together a strong stretch. The guard scored 25 points and hit 6 of 12 from the floor, including 4 of 7 from 3-point range, two days after scoring 23 while making 5 of 9 from beyond the arc in a 97-88 loss to the Mavericks.
Barton is averaging career highs of 14.9 points and 6.0 rebounds, and Malone thinks that's worthy of recognition.
"I think his season, overall, has been fantastic. He has to be one of the top candidates in terms of not only Sixth Man of the Year, but Most Improved in the NBA," he said.
Barton has converted 13 of 21 beyond the arc while averaging 24.7 points and 8.7 boards over the last three meetings with the Pelicans (27-47). He was four assists shy of a triple-double Dec. 20, but that wasn't enough in a 130-125 loss. He finished with career highs of 32 points and seven 3s while adding 10 rebounds.
Kenneth Faried had 21 points and 13 boards in that matchup, giving him averages of 17.3 and 10.0 over the last three in the series.
The Nuggets won 115-98 in their last visit to New Orleans on Nov. 17, getting 32 points from Danilo Gallinari. However, the forward is expected to be shut down for the rest of the season with an ankle injury that's sidelined him for a month.
Injuries have become synonymous with the Pelicans, who have used 36 different starting lineups. They were missing nine players for Wednesday's 100-92 loss at San Antonio, falling for the 13th time in 17 games.
The slew of injuries is giving journeyman Alexis Ajinca a chance to prove he's deserving a larger role next season. The big man had 18 points and nine boards against the Spurs, giving him averages of 15.3 and 7.0 while starting four straight games at forward.
Listed as a center, Ajinca is averaging 5.2 points and 4.1 boards while starting 13 of 53 games. A sore calf kept him out of the last meeting with Denver, when Anthony Davis had 27 points while Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday had 21 apiece. All three of them are out for the season, and Omer Asik is the only remaining healthy starter left from that game.