The Denver Nuggets are rolling toward the playoffs as the NBA’s hottest team.
They will try to bolster their postseason positioning when they visit the playoff-bound Houston Rockets.
Before George Karl took over for interim coach Michael Cooper in late January, the Nuggets appeared to be on their way to a disappointing follow-up to last year’s appearance in the postseason.
However, Karl has infused new life into the Nuggets, and they have looked nearly unstoppable over the past 2 1/2 months, going 31-6.
Denver matched its longest winning streak since 1988 on Friday, beating Memphis 111-102 for its 10th straight victory. The Nuggets have won all but two of their last 26 games, with both defeats coming against league-leading Phoenix.
With starting center Marcus Camby hampered by a hamstring injury, Nene came up big with 14 points and 15 rebounds Friday. Kenyon Martin had 17 points and eight rebounds and Carmelo Anthony led the Nuggets with 22 points.
The win moved Denver into a tie with Houston for sixth place in the Western Conference. The winner of Saturday’s matchup will hold the tiebreaker advantage in case the teams finish with the same record.
Despite his team’s amazing turnaround, Karl is still unhappy with the Nuggets’ tendency to let big leads dwindle. Denver nearly let a 25-point cushion slip away against Memphis.
“If you get a 15-point lead and let a team back in a playoff situation, it could be devastating,” Karl said. “I probably want playoff basketball now. They gave me playoff basketball, but not as much as I want.”
The Rockets, who clinched their second straight appearance in the playoffs with a victory over Phoenix last Saturday, have won four straight, including Wednesday’s 100-92 triumph over the Nuggets.
Yao Ming had 28 points and nine rebounds and Tracy McGrady added 23 points, eight rebounds and eight assists for Houston, which has also used a strong second-half surge to establish itself as a dangerous first-round opponent.
The Rockets had an eight-game winning streak just before the All-Star break, and went 12-4 in March.
“We are trying to play good basketball right now. We are trying to use the last few games to get prepared for the playoffs,” Rockets guard Mike James said.
“We’re not trying to wait until the playoffs start to start playing good basketball. So, right now, we’re focusing on what we want to do when the playoffs come by playing hard now.”