The Denver Nuggets can afford to relax a bit after clinching their first playoff berth in nine years.
The San Antonio Spurs still have some unfinished business heading into their regular season finale.
The Spurs, still in position to claim the Midwest Division title, look to extend their season-high win streak to 11 games when they close the season with a potential first-round playoff preview against the Nuggets.
With a victory and a Minnesota loss Wednesday, the Spurs will claim the division crown and the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. San Antonio split the season series with the Timberwolves, who finish up at Memphis, but would own the second tiebreaker with a better conference record.
As the top seed, San Antonio would earn a first-round matchup with the Nuggets—who earned their first trip to the playoffs since the 1994-95 season with a 97-89 win over Sacramento on Monday.
The defending champion Spurs are guaranteed no lower than the No. 3 spot, which would set up a first-round series with either the Grizzlies or Dallas Mavericks.
“We are very much where we would like to be. We’re pretty healthy, the guys are confident, shooting the ball very well. You want to have that confidence high,” Tim Duncan said after Monday’s 78-66 win over Portland. “With that kind of focus and understanding of what we are trying to do, we are right where we want to be.”
But Duncan, who had 14 points and 15 rebounds against the Trail Blazers, remains skeptical of finishing first in the West.
“It’s kind of disappointing to look back at some of the games that we lost,” he said. “But we’re excited about how far we’ve come.”
Tony Parker scored a team-high 22 points as the Spurs helped the Nuggets’ cause by forcing the Blazers to shoot a season-low 30.8 percent. Portland missed the playoffs for the first time in 22 years.
“It really hasn’t sunk in. It doesn’t even sound right, so many people doubted us,” said Anthony, leading the team with 21.1 points in his rookie season.
Marcus Camby had 12 points, 21 rebounds, seven assists and five blocked shots for the Nuggets, who have won five of their last six to come out on top in a battle with Utah and the Blazers for the final spot in the West.
“Marcus was absolutely huge,” Denver coach Jeff Bzdelik said.
The third-largest crowd in Nuggets’ history (19,746) shook the stands in the closing seconds and for several minutes after the game.
“I was going to call off practice tomorrow until somebody threw Gatorade on me,” Bzdelik said. “This basketball team showed a lot of courage. They willed themselves to give this city, our owner Mr. Kroenke, our management and all of you here today what you all deserved, and that is a playoff team here in Denver.”