Rockets-Nuggets Preview

The Associated Press

The Denver Nuggets failed to improve their playoff chances in their last game, but returning home should give them plenty of confidence.

The Houston Rockets might be glad to hit the road after their recent failures.

Denver and Houston begin a crucial home-and-home set Sunday night, when the winner will take over sole possession of seventh place in the Western Conference.

Coming off home wins over Golden State and Minnesota, the Nuggets (32-27) dropped their third in a row on the road Friday, 103-97 to the Los Angeles Lakers.

Denver is still very much in position to make a ninth consecutive playoff appearance, but the team closes with six of seven against teams that have either clinched a playoff spot or have a legitimate chance to do so.

"We need to use these last seven games to build some momentum," said Arron Afflalo, the Nuggets' lone starter to score in double figures Friday with 18. "We've got a tough little schedule ahead of us, and we're looking forward to it."

The Nuggets now try to post a season-best fifth straight home victory. They're 11-5 at the Pepsi Center since Feb. 13, compared to 5-10 on the road.

The Rockets (32-27) have won their last two visits to Denver, including a 99-90 victory Feb. 6.

These teams are tied for the final two playoff spots in the West, and Houston is coming off home losses to the two clubs trying to catch them - Utah and Phoenix.

That pair of defeats came after the Rockets swept a four-game road trip, including victories over league-best Chicago and the Lakers.

"We've been talking about solidifying our home court and taking advantage of it, but these past two games we haven't been doing that," center Marcus Camby told the Rockets' official website Friday after scoring 14 points and grabbing 18 rebounds in a 112-105 loss to the Suns.

"We just keep making the situation tougher for ourselves. So we have to regroup tomorrow, head up to Denver and try to get both of those games."

Before hosting the Nuggets on Monday, the Rockets, who last made the postseason in 2009, will try to extend their season-best road winning streak to five.

Houston hit 29 of 58 from 3-point range in the final three games of the road swing before going 8 for 39 (20.5 percent) in its last two games.

Goran Dragic missed 8 of 9 beyond the arc in that span, but he's averaging 18.7 points and 8.5 assists while starting the last 19 games in place of Kyle Lowry, who has played the last four after missing one month with a bacterial infection.

The Nuggets' point guard duo of Ty Lawson and Andre Miller also could play a huge role in this back-to-back set.

Lawson had 22 points and a career-best 15 assists in a 117-105 win at Houston on March 2, compared to 13 and seven, respectively, in the home loss to the Rockets.

Miller finished with a team-best 20 points, six rebounds and six assists Friday. His teams are 7-0 against Houston over the past eight seasons when he scores more than 15 points, including 16 last month.

Denver forward Danilo Gallinari is averaging 13.3 points in three games since missing 10 with a broken left thumb. He'll face the Rockets for the first time since suffering a left ankle sprain in the third quarter of the Feb. 6 matchup that sidelined him the next 13 games.

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