The Denver Nuggets are now into the tough part of their schedule, and with a playoff seed on the line, they can't afford to let any games get away from them.
While the opponents are tough -- starting with Thursday's win over the Los Angeles Clippers, Denver has five straight games against teams in the playoffs if the season ended this weekend -- the schedule offers some break.
With the Houston Rockets coming to town on Saturday night, it marks the fourth consecutive Nuggets opponent that will be playing on the second night of a back-to-back. Denver won the first three, and the Nuggets hope the magic continues against the high-scoring Rockets.
Houston (47-22) is coming off a 128-112 loss at New Orleans on Friday night. Nene was given the night off when the Pelicans announced that center DeMarcus Cousins would be out with knee and rib injuries, saving him for the game against his former team.
"We don't want to play him back-to-back," Houston coach Mike D'Antoni told the Houston Chronicle. "He really wanted to play where he's from. His kids are in Denver.
"We were going to play him back-to-back. We were going to play him. He can do it. We just want to be careful, make sure he's OK. It worked out."
The hope is the former Nugget can provide some defense on Denver's two pass-happy big men, Nikola Jokic and Mason Plumlee, who are rolling during the Nuggets' four-game winning streak.
In Thursday's 129-114 win over the Clippers, Jokic had his fifth triple-double and the Plumlee was four assists short of the mark. The pair has developed good chemistry even though Plumlee has only been with the team for three weeks.
"He just wants to win and wants to do stuff that other players don't want to do," Jokic said. "He wants to share the ball and play together."
Saturday's game features two of the top four scoring teams in the NBA. The Rockets, second behind Golden State and Denver (33-35), are averaging 111.2 points per game. While the lofty offensive numbers are important for the Nuggets, they have played improved defense of late.
Before the Clippers put up 114 on them, the Nuggets had held four of their previous seven opponents below 100 points and gave up an average of 97.3 in the previous three games.
Even though a lot of offense is in the forecast, defense will be the difference not only Saturday but also when the teams meet Monday in Houston.
"We are both high-acting offenses who can score in bunches," said Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried, who returned from a nine-game absence to score 12 points and grab six rebounds against the Clippers. "It's going to be interesting to see. I'm ready and my team is ready."
Who's ready for the Nuggets is a different story. Wilson Chandler has missed two games with a right groin injury and Danilo Gallinari sat out Wednesday with a bone bruise in his left knee.
Their status for Saturday is unknown, but Denver will need everybody to help stop the free-flowing Houston offense, led by MVP candidate James Harden.
Harden leads the NBA in assists with 11.3 per game, is third in scoring at 28.9 points and is averaging 8.0 rebounds.
He had 41 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists for his 18th triple-double in the loss to New Orleans on Friday. His move to point guard has helped not only him but the Houston offense.
That'll be the challenge for Denver, and the hope is that the Rockets, like the Clippers, Lakers and Sacramento Kings all felt the impact of playing the second straight night.
Nuggets face another foe coming off back-to-back