Thursday night’s matchup between Denver and Golden State won’t settle the Western Conference playoff race, but it could go a long way towards determining who will get the last spot in the postseason.
Sole possession of eighth place in the West will be on the line as the Nuggets face the Warriors at Oracle Arena.
Golden State and Denver are 47-31 with four games remaining in the regular season, and both trail seventh-place Dallas by two games. The Mavericks play host to Utah later on Thursday.
“Two good teams who deserve to go to the playoffs are going to battle on Thursday night,” Denver coach George Karl said of the Nuggets and Warriors. “When this thing all started evolving six or eight weeks ago, I remember circling the game with Golden State.
“We could get (to the playoffs) if we don’t win. It could give us a big leg up if we do win.”
Denver beat the Los Angeles Clippers 117-99 on Tuesday, bouncing back from back-to-back losses to Sacramento and Seattle, both out of playoff contention.
Carmelo Anthony, who ranks fourth in the league with 26.1 points per game, scored 36 and is averaging 40.3 on 68.1 percent (49-of-72) shooting from the field in his last three games.
“It’s got to be like that Thursday,” said Anthony, who’s also averaging 32.3 points in his last three visits to Oakland. “I’ve got confidence it will be like that Thursday. It’s a big game for us. Do I believe we have to win? No. But it’s a must-win for us.”
Allen Iverson added 21 points, seven rebounds and nine assists for the Nuggets, who rank second in the NBA in scoring with 110.7 points per game, trailing only Golden State with 110.8. However, the Warriors have the league’s worst defense, allowing 108.3 points per contest, ahead only of Denver’s 106.9.
Golden State posted its highest point total of the season in Tuesday’s 140-132 win over Sacramento, but yielded more than 130 points for the second time this season.
“It’s hard to be disappointed when you win and you score 140 points, but we’re going to have to start guarding people a lot better than we did tonight,” coach Don Nelson said. “They have shot-makers, but it’s hard to get a stop for us right now.”
“We need to be a lot sharper, but a win is a win,” Jackson said. “We can’t hope for something to get us going. We have to go anyway. We knew we had to win. Guys are starting to feel that sense of urgency, (but) we just need to feel that as a whole.”
Golden State, already assured of its best record since 1993-94, plays three of its last four at home. The Warriors’ 26-12 home record is the worst among West playoff contenders, but they have won three straight in Oakland.
Denver has won four of its last six on the road, but its 16-23 record is the worst among conference teams still in the playoff race. The Nuggets have won nine of their 12 against the Warriors.