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Nuggets-Bucks Preview

AP - Sports

The Denver Nuggets can clinch home-court advantage for a first-round playoff series with one more win.

The team is hopeful Kenneth Faried will be ready to go come the postseason.

One day after losing their leading rebounder to injury, the banged-up Nuggets try to regroup Monday night when they visit the Milwaukee Bucks.

Faried's ankle buckled when he went in for a layup less than three minutes into Sunday's 118-109 win over Portland. Although X-rays were negative, George Karl stressed that he didn't want to guess about Faried's availability for the playoffs until after Monday's MRI.

The Nuggets (55-25) tweeted this quote from Faried two hours after the game: "Extremely scared. I never felt a pain like that a day in my life.'' He also said he'd be ready for the playoffs: "I know I will be out there. If I can walk, I can play.''

The loss of Faried, who averages 11.5 points and 9.2 rebounds, would be a big loss for Denver, which is just getting over Danilo Gallinari's ACL injury.

"We're dropping like flies, man,'' said Ty Lawson, who averages a team-high 16.6 points. "Well, it's not too serious, I heard, so he might be out for a week or so. He's a tough guy.''

One bright spot for the Nuggets is Lawson (right heel) returned to the starting lineup for the first time since March 27, and finished with 12 points and 10 assists in an encouraging 31 minutes.

"I pushed off it actually going to the basket a couple of times," he said of the heel. "So I think I'm confident and just probably one or two more games I'll be back to regular."

Andre Iguodala led the way Sunday with 28 points and rookie Evan Fournier and had a season-best 24 in his second start as the Nuggets set an NBA franchise record with their 55th win.

"It's been a really good year for us," said Iguodala, who is averaging 19.0 points, 9.8 assists and 8.0 rebounds in his last four games. "But we don't want to get satisfied. We've still got work to do. We can't just settle for 55. We've got to try to get to 57.''

Especially with a chance to lock up the Western Conference's third seed.

The Nuggets have a one-game lead over the Los Angeles Clippers and Memphis for third place, and own the tiebreaker over each team. Home court would be a significant advantage to Denver, which has a franchise-best 22-game home winning streak and is an NBA-best 37-3 at home.

The Nuggets beat the Bucks 112-104 at home Feb. 4 for their fifth straight win in the series. Iguodala, Lawson and Corey Brewer each reached the 20-point mark, while 11-year veteran Samuel Dalembert scored a career-best 35 for Milwaukee.

The Bucks (37-43) are headed to the playoffs for the first time in three seasons, but little suggests they'll be able to get out of the first round. They're stumbling down the stretch with 11 losses in 14 games and will face top-seeded Miami in the playoffs.

A discouraging 95-85 defeat to East-worst Charlotte on Saturday - their fourth in a row - also did little to boost their confidence.

If there's any bit of good news for the Bucks, it's they hope to get Larry Sanders and Brandon Jennings back for the postseason.

"We'll try to keep our guys fresh and keep them playing enough that they're feeling in a rhythm and ready to compete,'' coach Jim Boylan said. "I don't want to sit them out completely, but at the same time we want to be cautious.''

J.J. Redick had 12 points and was 2 of 11 from 3-point range Saturday. He has totaled 38 points on 7-of-12 shooting from the perimeter in two games versus Denver this season.

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