The Denver Nuggets went from a solid hold to a shaky one on the No. 2 spot in the Western Conference as the Houston Rockets kept winning and climbing.
It didn't help that Denver went into a tailspin, losing four of five games and getting an earful from coach Michael Malone after a poor effort at Golden State on Friday. Malone's words, emphasized over the three-day gap between games, had an impact.
The Nuggets put together one of their best games in a 133-107 win over the short-handed Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday night. They don't have the luxury of resting on that performance with a home game against the reeling Dallas Mavericks on Thursday night.
Dallas has lost six straight and 11 of 12 but can still be dangerous. The Mavericks nearly beat Houston on Sunday and gave San Antonio a fight despite a compromised Luka Doncic, who played with a left knee strain suffered against Houston.
Doncic had 12 points and suffered through a 1-for-7 shooting night from 3-point range in 34 minutes against the Spurs.
"He had a rough night," Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said after the game. "I probably played him too many minutes."
Dallas had more adversity Wednesday when its flight to Denver was delayed by a snowstorm, dubbed the "bomb cyclone" blew through Colorado. But there were smiles around the Mavericks after Kristaps Porzingis practiced 5-on-5 with the team on Wednesday.
Porzingis suffered an ACL tear with the New York Knicks last year and hasn't played since. The Mavericks acquired the 7-foot-3 forward in a blockbuster deal on Jan. 31 but it is highly unlikely he'll play this season.
"It's been almost 13 months since I played 5-on-5," Porzingis said after practice. "It felt great to be back on the court, be back with the guys and enjoy what I truly, truly love."
Porzingis said he has played 3-on-3 before Wednesday and feels good at this point in his recovery.
"My body has changed since I got hurt. I feel stronger on the court, I'm moving well," he said. "I'm really happy with the progress that we've made."
Porzingis won't be on the court Thursday, and Doncic's availability could be in doubt, but retiring forward Dirk Nowitzki is going to play his last game in Denver. He will face a Nuggets team that is on the rise and looking to solidify its position in the Western Conference.
Tuesday was a good start. After showing a stagnant offense over the previous five games Denver had a season-high 40 assists on 51 field goals against the Timberwolves.
"After the last couple of days, the film sessions and just harping on ball movement and being selfless and playing for each other, for us to go out there and get 40 assists on 51 field goals, was refreshing and fun to watch," Malone said after the game.
The ball was moving against Minnesota and not sticking with one player. No one had more than eight assists in the win and five players had four or more with Mason Plumlee leading the way with eight.
But it was one game, and with some tough matchups ahead, the Nuggets can't overlook any team if they want to hold onto the No. 2 seed -- and possibly move past Golden State for No. 1.
"We're focused on the bigger picture right now," Plumlee said after the game. "There's a chance to do something special."