March 23, 2012; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Denver Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson (3) attempts to split the defense of Utah Jazz point guard Devin Harris (5) and center Al Jefferson (25) during the first quarter at Energy Solutions Arena. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-US PRESSWIRE

Denver Nuggets and the Western Conference Playoff Picture

Phoenix Suns center Channing Frye tries to defend Kenneth Faried during the first quarter of the game at the Pepsi Center. The Suns and the Nuggets are fighting for a top-8 spot in the Western Conference. Ron Chenoy-US PRESSWIRE

Will The Nuggets Make the Playoffs

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It is the home stretch for the shortened 2012 season and like usual there is a traffic jam in the Western Conference, with five teams vying for the final three playoff spots.

*HOUSTON         32-25 (overall)  20-8 (at home)  12-17 (on road) 21-19 (in conference)
*DALLAS             31-26                     20-10                     11-16                     21-20
*DENVER          31-26                     17-12                     14-14                     16-24
PHOENIX            30-27                     17-11                     13-16                     20-19
UTAH                   30-28                     21-8                        9-20                        20-21

Houston, Dallas and Denver currently occupy the final three spots in the West, but that could easily change as 2 1/2 games separates the five squads. And each teams has a moderately difficult schedule, which makes the playoff seedings very hard to predict.

The Rockets, who are (as of right now) the sixth seed, will face Utah, Phoenix, Denver at home and then in Denver and Dallas on the road over the next five games. No doubt those stretch of games will have a serious impact on playoff seedings. Houston has played well recently, winning eight of the last 11 games – including winning four straight on the road. Their success has a lot to do with the play of Goran Dragic, who is starting in place of injured Kyle Lowry. Since starting, Dragic has averaged 18.7 points and 8.2 assists as a starter and the Rockets are 11-6 since Lowry got hurt.
BACK TO BACKS: 3 (At Denver and Denver; at Dallas and at New Orleans; Golden State and at Miami).
TIEBREAKER:  Houston holds tiebreakers over Denver, Phoenix and Utah.
IMPORTANT GAMES: Utah, Wednesday; Phoenix, Friday; at Denver, Sunday; Denver, Monday; at Dallas, April 18.

The defending champion Mavericks, have been on a slide recently and their schedule doesn’t get any easier. Dallas has lost two in a row and have dropped six of its last 10 games – including losses at home to Portland and the Los Angeles Clippers. The Mavericks, who are 11-16 on the road, play six of their final nine games on the road. Luckily enough, only five of their final games are against winning teams – which makes Thursday’s game at Golden State and Friday’s game at Portland important for Dallas. The Mavericks also cut ties with Lamar Odom on Monday, which may have some aftershocks to the roster. Brendan Haywood hasn’t been great for the Mavericks since returning from injuries, the 7-foot center is shooting a dismal .333 and is averaging only 3.6 points in five starts.
3 (At Golden State and at Portland; at Los Angeles Lakers and at Utah; Golden State and At Chicago)
TIEBREAKER: Dallas holds the tiebreaker over Houston, Denver, Utah and Phoenix.
IMPORTANT GAMES: At Golden State, Thursday; at Portland, Friday; at Los Angeles Lakers, Sunday; at Utah, Monday; Houston,  April 18.

The Nuggets have been by far the most inconsistent team of the group, proving they can beat the Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat and then lose to the New Orleans Hornets and Toronto Raptors. Luckily enough for the inconsistent Nuggets, their is no consistently at the end of their schedule. Denver will play five of its final nine games on the road, where the Nuggets hold a 14-14 record. For Denver to lock up a spot it will most likely have to win at least road win, which will be a tough task since they face Los Angeles Lakers, Houston, Phoenix Oklahoma City and Minnesota on the road. The Nuggets also have one of the toughest schedules, facing six playoff teams. Ty Lawson has been Denver’s most important player, leading the team with 15.6 points and 6.3 assists. Rookie Kenneth Faried and has been a big highlight for the Nuggets, averaging 9.9 points and 7.3 rebounds for Denver. He is also coming off a 27 point, 17 rebound game against Golden State.
3 (Houston and at Houston; at Phoenix and Orlando; at Oklahoma City and at Minnesota),
TIEBREAKER: Denver only holds the tiebreaker over Phoenix.
IMPORTANT GAMES: Houston, Sunday; at Houston, Monday; at Phoenix, April 21; at Oklahoma City, April 25; at Minnesota, April 26.

The Suns came out of nowhere the crowd up the Western Conference. They are 16-7 since the All-Star Break and have been one of the hottest teams – with wins on the road against the Utah Jazz, Indiana Pacers and Los Angeles Clippers. Phoenix has a three-game road trip and then play five of their final six at home. However, the Suns also play eight teams with a winning record. The Suns have been nearly perfect at home winning 11 of their last 13 and also play five of their final nine at home. Rookie Markieff Morris has quietly been a nice addition for the Suns. He is averaging 7.3 points and is shooting .377 from behind the arc. He also had 21 points in Monday’s win over the Minnesota Timberwolves.
BACK TO BACKS: 2 (Oklahoma City and Los Angeles Clippers; at Utah and San Antonio).
TIEBREAKERS: Phoenix holds a tiebreaker with Utah
IMPORTANT GAMES: At Houston, Friday; Portland, Monday; Oklahoma City, April 18, Los Angeles Clippers, April 19 and Utah, April 24.

After winning six straight in March, Utah has started to fizzle. The Jazz have dropped five of their last nine, including a four-overtime loss in Atlanta and a one-point loss to Sacramento and a two-point loss to Phoenix. However, the Jazz, who are currently 10th in the West (1/2 game behind Phoenix and 1 1/2 game behind Denver), may actually have the easiest schedule among the five. They only play one back-to-back and face only five teams with winning records. In their four road games, two are against Portland (27-31) and New Orleans (15-42). Gordon Hayward has done a good job in the starting lineup for the Jazz. He has started 50 games, averaging 11.3 points and has grabbed five rebounds. He has scored in double figures in Utah’s last nine games and 21 of the last 26 games.
BACK TO BACKS: 1 (at New Orleans and at Memphis)
TIEBREAKERS: Utah holds the tiebreaker over Denver
IMPORTANT GAMES: At Houston, Wednesday; Dallas, Monday, at Portland, April 18; Phoenix, April 24 and Portland, April 26.


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Tags: Brendan Haywood Chicago Bulls Dallas Mavericks Denver Nuggets Golden State Warriors Goran Dragic Gordon Hayward Houston Rockets Indiana Pacers Kenneth Faried Kyle Lowry Lamar Odom Los Angeles Clippers Markieff Morris New Orleans Hornets Phoenix Suns Toronto Raptors Ty Lawson Utah Jazz

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