With a week left in the regular season the Denver Nuggets still are battling for a playoff spot and seeking a higher seed in the NBA playoffs.
Currently the Nuggets, who are 34-28, hold the 7th seed in the West and are a game behind the Dallas Mavericks and a game and a half ahead of the Phoenix Suns – who they face Saturday at the U.S. Airways Center.
Denver would need to win three of its final four games and Dallas to lose both of its final two games to get the 6th seed. However, winning two games would at least guarantee a playoff spot for the Nuggets.
The playoffs spots are far from set, but Denver would have to face the Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Lakers or the Los Angeles Clippers in the opening round. The Nuggets have been competitive with Western’s Big 4, but they haven’t been too successful with just a 3-10 record.
The only one of the four Denver hasn’t beaten has been the Thunder – who the Nuggets will face one more time in Oklahoma City. Denver beat the Spurs and Clippers on the road, while defeating the Lakers at home earlier this season.
The Thunder and the Nuggets had a spirited first-round matchup last season. Even though Oklahoma City bested Denver in five games, four of the games were decided by four points or fewer and Oklahoma City had only a plus 4.8 in the series.
The Nuggets also nearly beat the Thunder in Oklahoma City in February, before losing by six in overtime.
However, since then Denver been hampered by injuries and have gone through in-season changes while the Thunder have remained healthy and together this season and that showed when the team met in March at the Pepsi Center and the Thunder cruised to an easy 103-90 victory.
The Nuggets still are struggling to find an answer for Kevin Durant, who averaged 37.5 points against Denver this season and 31.5 against the Nuggets last season. His sidekick, Russell Westbrook, is averaging 31.5 against Denver as well this season. Westbrook has proven to be a bad matchup for Denver’s Ty Lawson, who hasn’t played his best against the Thunder this season or in last year’s playoffs.
Andre Miller is averaging 19 against the Thunder.
The issue with playing Oklahoma City is the Thunder (102.8 points) – like the Nuggets (103.5) – enjoy playing fast but they do it better. They are nearly as good offensively as Denver, but are far better defensively. The Nuggets are giving up an average of 101.6 points a contest.
The Spurs may be the best matchup for Denver. If the Nuggets are allowed to play their style of basketball, it would cause trouble for San Antonio. Denver loves to play a fast-pace game, while the Spurs are more suited for the halfcourt. If Nuggets set the tone, they have a chance against San Antonio’s veteran squad.
Right after the All-Star Break, Denver took it to the Spurs. Lawson led the way with 22 points and nine rebounds. The Nuggets limited their mistakes (only nine turnovers) and got out on the run (24 fast-break points).
San Antonio did re-load at the trade deadline, adding Boris Diaw off the waiver wire and trading for Stephen Jackson. The Spurs also got Manu Ginobili back from injuries. Tony Parker is having an All-Star season, averaging 18.6 points and 7.7 assists.
LOS ANGELES LAKERS
The Nuggets have seen enough of Los Angeles original squad. Denver has dropped three of four against the Lakers, but the three losses have been by a combined 13 points.
Kobe Bryant has always been Public Enemy No. 1, but it seems the Nuggets have a bigger problem against the Lakers.
Last week, Andrew Bynum battled past Denver’s three 7-footers (Kosta Koufos, JaVale McGee and Timofey Mozgov) to score 30 points. For the season, Bynum is averaging 24.8 points and 11.8 rebounds against the Nuggets.
In Denver’s most recent loss to the Lakers, both Lawson and Danilo Gallinari struggled. In fact, both have had trouble with Los Angeles. Gallinari is shooting only .283 against L.A. this season and Lawson is only averaging 12.3 points on .40 percent against the Lakers. And Denver has no shot if the two struggle in the playoffs.
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
The Clippers, like the Lakers have won3 of 4 against the Nuggets. But Denver proved Wednesday night that it can play at the same level as Lob City.
A lot of good stuff came out of the Wednesday’s game. The Nuggets scored 58 points in the paint, they limited Blake Grififn to only 12 points on 5 of 12 shooting. Lawson (24 points and six assists) nearly outplayed Chris Paul (21 and 8). If it wasn’t for Los Angeles’ 14-24 shooting from behind the arc and Gallinari going 0-for-8 the Nuggets would have won.
However, it’d take a miracle for the Nuggets to face the Clippers in the first round. Denver would need to overtake Dallas for the 6th seed and the Clippers to move past the Lakers.
Topics: Andre Miller, Andrew Bynum, Blake Griffin, Boris Diaw, Chris Paul, Dallas Mavericks, Danilo Gallinari, Denver Nuggets, JaVale McGee, Kenneth Faried, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant, Kosta Koufos, Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers, Manu Ginobili, Oklahoma City Thunder, Phoenix Suns, Russell Westbrook, San Antonio Spurs, Stephen Jackson, Tim Duncan, Timofey Mozgov, Tony Parker, Ty Lawson