Playoff qualification is the constant backdrop, but admittedly the Nuggets know they have major issues in their house to clean before they can realistically place their eyes firmly on that prize.
They took a step in the right direction Monday night.
The Nuggets were clutch from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter and got a buzzer-beating, game-winning 3-pointer from Randy Foye in a heart-stopping, 116-115 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers at the Pepsi Center.
“That's probably one of the top moments in my playing career,” Foye said.
The final play, which started with 6.8 seconds remaining, was a bit of a broken beauty.
Denver's inbounds pass went to Kenneth Faried, who passed it to J.J. Hickson at the top of the key. Hickson held the ball while looking for an open teammate, with time ticking down. By the time Foye received the handoff, there was only time for him to shoot.
And he did. Off balance.
The shot went in. And the crowd went wild.
“I just rose up and shot it,” Foye said. “Chills went through my body before my teammates jumped on me. It was just an unbelievable feeling.”
That shot broke the Nuggets' two-game home losing streak.
“I thought we had Wilson (Chandler) open on that last play,” Nuggets coach Brian Shaw said. “He was open right underneath the basket. I think J.J. was just a little hesitant to throw it. I was really nervous. I was like, 'This can't be one of those situations where we don't get a shot off.' And then I saw Randy at the last second coming off. J.J. got it to him, and he freed up enough space to knock it down. ”
The winning shot was set up by some hot free-throw shooting by the Nuggets in the fourth quarter. They made 16-of-18 attempts from the charity stripe to keep themselves close. The Nuggets received a career-high 28 points from Faried, who was big all game long in the paint.
Faried and Hickson combined to control the boards, grabbing 23 of Denver's 52 rebounds.
The Nuggets needed every bit of that production, with Blake Griffin doing whatever he wanted for the Clippers.
The all-star forward scored early and often — and saddled Denver players with early fouls in the process. At the halftime buzzer, he had 22 points and seven rebounds. He finished with 36 points and 11 rebounds.