Nuggets-Mavericks Preview

The Associated Press

(AP) -- - Ty Lawson goes down with a torn right heel, the Denver Nuggets keep right on winning. Danilo Gallinari tears an ACL, they don't miss a beat.

The starless but selfless Nuggets have four chances left to set a franchise record with their 55th win, starting at Dallas on Friday night, before they try to parlay their deep roster into a deep playoff run.

The Mavericks won't be joining Denver in the postseason, missing out for the first time since 2000 - when Dirk Nowitzki was a baby-faced kid barely old enough to drink.

Although Gallinari is out for the season after injuring his left knee last week, Lawson hopes to return this weekend to test out his pain threshold and knock off some rust.

The Nuggets (54-24) hardly missed their top two scorers Wednesday night when they set a franchise record with their 21st straight home win, 96-86 over San Antonio.

The Nuggets are heading to the playoffs for the 10th straight season, but this time they're going there without a headliner.

That's not a bad thing.

After all, they were first-round fodder in all but one of those previous nine trips.

Without a go-to superstar, this year's Nuggets have none of that same star power that they once had but much more moxie built around unselfish ball movement and a philosophy of racing up and down the court to capitalize on young legs and high altitude.

Denver is an NBA-best 36-3 at home and hosts Portland on Sunday and Phoenix next week as the Nuggets seek yet another franchise mark for most home wins in a season since joining the NBA 37 years ago. Denver went 36-5 at home in 1976-77.

Rick Carlisle, whose Mavericks lost to the Nuggets in the second round in the 2009 playoffs, said the transformation in Denver has been extraordinary.

"It's quite a different team that's been put together in a different way. They've been very smart in the way they've done it. It's a strength-in-numbers type of outfit, a lot of depth, a lot of playmakers, a lot of speed, a lot of skill. ... With homecourt in the playoffs, they're going to be extremely dangerous."

The Nuggets are clinging to the third seed in the West, a game ahead of the Grizzlies and two ahead of the Clippers.

"That's the main goal, to get the No. 3 seed and get the home-court advantage going into the playoffs," said Wilson Chandler, who scored 29 against the Spurs.

Things didn't go so well for the Mavericks (38-40) on Wednesday night.

A 102-91 home loss to lowly Phoenix, which snapped a 10-game skid, put them on the brink of postseason elimination. The Lakers finished Dallas off a couple of hours later by beating Portland.

Just two years removed from the franchise's first championship, the Mavericks simply never recovered from Nowitzki missing the first 27 games after the first knee surgery of his career.

"We're going to try to win the next game to get this to .500," said Nowitzki, about to finish his 15th NBA season. "We'd love to finish with a positive record. That means something and we're going to fight for it."

The Mavericks will go into their third straight offseason of uncertainty after back-to-back seasons of teams filled with one-year or expiring contracts.

When Deron Williams spurned the Mavericks in free agency and Jason Kidd picked New York after saying he would return to Dallas, the Mavericks brought in Darren Collison, O.J. Mayo, Chris Kaman and Elton Brand. Vince Carter was back for a second year.

The Mavericks felt pretty good about their Plan B but figured on having Nowitzki the entire time. Instead, they essentially were without him for half the season because it took him another 10 games to find anything resembling a groove after his right knee simply couldn't make it through training camp.

"There's a lot of observations that can be made about this team," Carlisle said. "But I think the truth is, we're a team with parts that fit together a certain way. The collective disposition, the collective will, the collective understanding of each other. They've got to be there for us to play at our best. There have been times where really good shot making nights have been a deodorant for other flaws."

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