MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- The Memphis Grizzlies are struggling, and their slide could hurt their position for the playoffs.
The Grizzlies (41-34) are fifth in the Western Conference, but idle Portland is just two games back.
"We don't want to just get in the playoffs," Memphis coach Dave Joerger said. "We want to get to fifth, and we want to play the (fourth-seeded) Clippers. This was not a step in the right direction."
Matt Barnes made a 3-pointer to trim Denver's lead to 108-105 with 3.9 seconds left. But Barton was fouled on the inbounds play and split a pair of free-throw attempts to help Denver hold on.
"I knew they wouldn't give up," Barton said. "I just didn't know how it would turn out. ... They are never going to give (up), especially because they are trying to make a playoff push."
Denver had a 77-57 lead with 4:24 left in the third.
"We made enough plays down the stretch," Nuggets coach Michael Malone said, later adding: "I give (the Grizzlies) credit. They had a `never-quit' mentality."
Denver never trailed, but Memphis outscored the Nuggets 37-25 in the fourth.
"We ran out of time," veteran swingman Vince Carter said.
Memphis, as it has in several recent games, got off to a slow start, shooting less than 40 percent in most of the first half, committing turnovers and failing to play defense.
The Grizzlies' woes contributed to the Nuggets building a 16-point lead on their way to a 59-47 advantage at intermission. Denver carried an 84-68 lead into the final period.
"We know what's at stake," Randolph said. "We've just got to keep playing hard."
Nuggets: Denver hit its first seven shots in the second quarter and connected on 12 of 16 in the period. ... The Nuggets made 13 3-pointers. Denver is 14-3 when connecting on at least 10 3s.
Grizzlies: Randolph returned after missing two games with a right ankle sprain. ... Memphis dropped to 32-11 against sub-.500 teams. ... Memphis had won five straight in the series. ... Memphis went 17 for 27 at the line, including 5 of 10 as it rallied in the fourth quarter. ... Farmar's 14 points was a season high.
Malone said before the game that he is noticing the drain of a long season on his young players, such as rookie center Nikola Jokic, who had nine points and 14 rebounds against Memphis.
"I think, to be very honest, he has hit his third rookie wall," Malone said. "I look at our young guys, and I think our guys are fatigued. I look at Nikola, and I can see it in his eyes."
LOBBYING FOR WILL
Malone said Barton's season is impressive enough that the reserve guard should be considered for a couple of postseason awards.
"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.
Nuggets: Visit New Orleans Pelicans on Thursday.
Grizzlies: Host Toronto Raptors on Friday.
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