Shorthanded Nuggets pull into virtual tie for first place in Western Conference

Denver Nuggets v Portland Trail Blazers
Denver Nuggets v Portland Trail Blazers / Alika Jenner/GettyImages

The Denver Nuggets went into Portland Saturday night without Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray and came out with a 114-111 win over the Trail Blazers. They got off to a good start, leading by as many as 15 points, but the upstart Blazers fought hard until the end.

But a win is a win, and with the win, Denver is up to 50-21 on the season. They’re the first team in the Western Conference to reach 50 wins, and only the second in the NBA - the Celtics have 57.

Standings watch

The Oklahoma City Thunder still lead the Nuggets by percentage points for first place in the Western Conference with a 49-20 record on the season, but the teams are virtually tied in the standings. Denver still has 11 games to play in the regular season, while OKC has 13.

Chance to take the top seed

The Nuggets are off on Sunday, but they can actually pull into sole possession of the top seed while they watch from their couches. The Thunder travel to Milwaukee to face the Bucks on Sunday night in what should be a hotly contested inter-conference matchup.

If the Thunder should fall to the Bucks (the Bucks are currently 2.5-point favorites), the Nuggets move a half-game up on OKC for the West lead. Regardless of how that one plays out, we’re looking at a battle that will likely go down to the final days of the season.

The Nuggets got it done on Saturday even without their stars; Murray was nursing a sprained ankle while Jokic was likely just resting. It will be interesting to see how the team manages their stars down the stretch and how hard they push for the one seed.

Prioritize health and rest

Ball Arena provides one of the best home-court advantages in the league, and the Nuggets would certainly love to have that advantage as much as possible in their quest to repeat as champions. But the team proved last year that they can win anywhere in the playoffs. 

They shouldn’t - and won’t - sacrifice health and rest for the sake of an extra home game or two. All that matters is having the team fully healthy and in a rhythm. If that means playing an extra game in Oklahoma City or Minnesota, so be it.