The Golden State Warriors and the Denver Nuggets each play with an aggressive approach that is designed to blow out their opponents, but that hasn’t helped them create separation in the Western Conference standings.
In a matchup of two of the league’s top offenses, the Warriors look to maintain their slim lead over the Nuggets for the eighth playoff spot in the West as the teams continue their season series Saturday night.
Golden State (44-27) and Denver (44-28) average 111.0 and 109.6 points, respectively, often leading to margins of victory that leave games in little doubt.
That style of play has helped give both teams winning percentages over .600. In the tough West, however, that is only good enough to leave them among three teams battling for the conference’s final two postseason berths.
The Warriors have a half-game lead over the Nuggets for the final playoff spot, and are within a half-game of Dallas for seventh place. Denver beat Dallas 118-105 on Thursday night, winning by 13 points or more for the second straight game, and Golden State will face the Mavericks on Sunday night.
“They’re all critical,” Warriors coach Don Nelson said of his team’s last 11 regular-season games.
After falling behind by 14 points after just 9 minutes, Golden State ended up cruising to a 111-95 win over Portland on Thursday night. The Warriors went 11-for-24 (45.8 percent) from 3-point range, and outscored the Blazers 40-20 in the third quarter.
But Golden State is concerned about its slow start against Portland, knowing it will be much tougher to rebound from large deficits against playoff contenders.
“We have to be ready to play from the jump,” said Warriors swingman Stephen Jackson, averaging 28.0 points in his last three games. “We have some good teams coming up. … Hopefully we’ll be ready against Denver. We will be ready.”
Golden State has alternated wins and losses for the last nine games, but it might need to do better than that to secure a spot in the postseason.
The Nuggets, meanwhile, have won four straight and seven of nine, outscoring their opponents by 15.0 points during that stretch. A win over the Mavericks was crucial for Denver’s playoff hopes, and it also got an emotional boost with the return of Nene.
The 6-foot-11 forward played the final 77 seconds against Dallas, marking his return to the court 2 1/2 months after surgery to remove a malignant testicular tumor. Nene had been out since Jan. 11, and it’s been just over a month since he underwent chemotherapy.
“It’s worthy of tears,” Nuggets coach George Karl said. “To see him come back, he’s a hell of a person and to help him through this, if we can help him play this year, it will be a great story, it’ll be a great feeling, it will be a great building block for the character and chemistry of our team.”
It might be difficult to work Nene into meaningful minutes at this point in the season, but he could potentially give Denver’s bench a spark. Nene averaged 6.4 points and 6.4 rebounds in 12 games before being sidelined.
Golden State and Denver have split two games this season. The teams will conclude their season series on April 10 in Oakland.