Three days after taking the lead in the race for the Western Conference’s final playoff spot by beating the only other team in contention, the Denver Nuggets find themselves tied again for the eighth seed.
Winning their next game would put them back in the driver’s seat.
The Nuggets look to move closer to clinching a playoff spot on Sunday when they host the streaking Rockets, who are still alive in the race for the conference’s top seed.
Denver (48-32) took a one-game lead over Golden State by beating the Warriors 114-105 on Thursday night. That lead was erased on Saturday night, when the Warriors beat the Los Angeles Clippers and the Nuggets were routed 124-97 at Utah.
“There is no tomorrow after tomorrow if we don’t take care of business,” Nuggets guard Allen Iverson said after the defeat.
Iverson and his teammates, however, have reason to be optimistic. They have the same record as the Warriors, but hold the tiebreaker because they won three of four in the head-to-head series. For that reason, a win in this game would lower Denver’s magic number to one.
The Nuggets host lowly Memphis in their finale on Wednesday, while the Warriors visit Phoenix on Monday before finishing with a home game against last-place Seattle.
With one of the most competitive playoff races in NBA history coming down to the wire, the Warriors will certainly be rooting for the Rockets (54-25) on Sunday.
“We all need to call all our friends on the Rockets and tell them to go all-out tomorrow,” Warriors forward Al Harrington said Saturday. “We need the whole Bay Area to root Houston on. We’re all Rockets fans for a night.”
The Rockets have their own reasons to win this game. If the playoffs started today, they’d be the fifth seed, but they’re still within reach of the top seed, trailing the co-leading Los Angeles Lakers and New Orleans Hornets by a half-game.
After dropping five of eight games following their 22-game win streak, Houston has won five in a row, including a 101-90 victory over Phoenix on Friday night. The Rockets shot 51.1 percent in that game and held the Suns to their lowest point total since Feb. 24.
“I couldn’t be prouder of our team,” Rockets coach Rick Adelman said after his club overcame an early 13-2 deficit. “That’s a very good team and our guys, they came out with a real resolve and it showed.”
The Rockets have won six of their last eight games against the Nuggets, including two of three this season. Tracy McGrady didn’t play in Houston’s 112-111 double-overtime loss in Denver on Dec. 20 because of a knee injury, but has averaged 28.5 points and made 23 of 44 field-goal attempts (52.3 percent) in the Rockets’ two victories.
Denver forward Carmelo Anthony had 37 points and 16 rebounds in the Nuggets’ win, but was limited to 36 points and 14 rebounds in their two losses.