Nuggets miss postseason for a 3rd straight year

DENVER (AP) A little quirky trivia: The Denver Nuggets were the only team this season to beat both Golden State and San Antonio.

Mention that particular detail to Kenneth Faried and his reply is straightforward.

''Even nicer to be in the playoffs and play against them,'' the high-flying forward said.

Alas, the Nuggets (33-49) are sitting out the postseason for a third straight year. They did show signs of progress in coach Michael Malone's first year in charge and under the direction of rookie point guard Emmanuel Mudiay. There were those wins over the top two teams in the Western Conference and a three-game improvement from a season ago.

What's more, Denver has three first-round picks in the June draft - a lottery selection, Houston's spot at No. 15 (courtesy of the Ty Lawson deal) and another soon after that via Portland.

Mudiay is already thinking big for next season. Like playoffs big.

''Anything is possible,'' Mudiay said. ''We're not too far off.''

It all starts with Mudiay, the seventh overall pick last summer. He struggled with his jumper early in the season, missed 14 games with a sprained right ankle and blossomed after the All-Star break, even hitting a game-winning half-court shot against Philadelphia.

Malone is leaning toward sending Mudiay to the summer league for more seasoning. He could have company as younger players such as Gary Harris, JaKarr Sampson and Axel Toupane may also take part.

Perfectly fine with Mudiay.

''We took a lot of bumps, but it was good for us as far as growing,'' said Mudiay, who texts with Kobe Bryant and constantly receives tips from the just-retired Los Angeles Lakers star. ''The ultimate goal is to put banners up here in the Pepsi Center.''

Things to know as Denver heads into the offseason:

BIGGEST NEED: Another reliable scoring option. The Nuggets missed the presence of sharp-shooter Danilo Gallinari once he went out with an ankle injury in February. They will have Wilson Chandler back next season after being sidelined all year following hip surgery.

''Wilson's presence coming back next year should really help us,'' Mudiay said.

THE GOOD NEWS: Malone may be on to something by starting twin towers Nikola Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic. The experiment over the last few games was effective.

The 6-foot-10 Jokic played well enough all season to possibly make the league's all-rookie squad. Nurkic was out early in the year as his knee healed and then turned in some of his best performances down the stretch.

''It worked really good,'' said Jokic, who averaged 10 points this season. ''It should work in the future.''

THE BAD NEWS: Home wasn't so sweet for the Nuggets, who finished below .500 (18-23) for a second straight season. Given the elevation, the Pepsi Center has long been a big-time advantage.

POWDER BLUE TO RED, WHITE & BLUE?: Faried hopes to be taken by Team USA to Rio de Janeiro this summer for the Summer Games.

''Hopefully, next year I come off of USA basketball after winning the gold in Rio and come back and have a better year,'' said Faried, who guided the U.S. squad to a championship at the Basketball World Cup in 2014.

DECISIONS, DECISIONS: Guard D.J. Augustin wouldn't mind a return to the Mile High City. He was acquired by Denver on Feb. 18 in a deal that sent Randy Foye to Oklahoma City.

''We have a lot of great talent, a lot of great guys,'' said Augustin, who averaged 7.5 points and 3.2 assists. ''That's a good recipe.''

Denver also has to decide on 36-year-old guard Mike Miller, who's set to be a free agent. Darrell Arthur holds a player option.

BUILT MALONE TOUGH: A gritty, defensive-minded squad - that is what Malone envisions for next season.

''I drive a pick-up truck, I cut my own hair and have a beard - I'm not too worried about how I look,'' Malone said. ''I just want to help this team become the best team they can be and give our fans in Denver that came out every night something they can be really proud of.''

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