Winners of six straight and 14 of 15, the Denver Nuggets are the hottest team in the Western Conference. But they still haven’t proven they can beat the Phoenix Suns, the team they might be matched up with in the opening round of the playoffs.
After underachieving for most of the first four months of the season, the Nuggets have found their groove under new coach George Karl. The Nuggets are 21-5 since Karl took over after Denver’s dismal 17-25 start under Jeff Bzdelik and interim coach Michael Cooper.
Despite their late-season push, the Nuggets are still only eighth in the West, one game behind seventh-place Memphis and 2 1/2 in front of Minnesota. That means they could be paired up with conference-leading Phoenix in the opening round.
The Suns are the only team to beat the Nuggets in the last 15 games, ending Denver’s eight-game win streak with a 106-101 victory at the Pepsi Center on March 13. Phoenix is 2-0 against the Nuggets this season, but Denver would like to send a message to its potential first-round opponent before the end of the regular season.
The teams will meet for the fourth and final time on April 18.
The Nuggets will play six of their next seven games on the road, beginning with Monday’s showdown against the Suns. Denver has won four straight away from the Pepsi Center.
“We just keep on rolling,” Denver forward Carmelo Anthony said. “Now we have to carry this over on the road.”
The Suns, clinging to a half-game lead over San Antonio for the top spot in the West, have won four of their last five games, including Saturday’s 118-116 victory over Orlando.
Shawn Marion had 27 points and 14 rebounds and Joe Johnson added 26 points as the Suns closed out a 4-1 trip to improve to an NBA-best 29-8 on the road. Phoenix is just a half-game behind Miami for the best overall record in the league.
“We were a little flat tonight, but we had some good spurts and found a way to win, which is what good teams do,” Phoenix coach Mike D’Antoni said Saturday. “I don’t think we were tired because you can’t be tired and play as hard as we did at the end. You’re going to have games like this and we’ll just take the win.”