Playoff spot, anyone?
No. 8 seed is up for grabs as Nuggets visit Warriors
Posted: Thursday April 10, 2008 10:21AM; Updated: Thursday April 10, 2008 12:18PM
If you're an NBA fan, it doesn't get much better than Thursday night's battle between the Nuggets (47-31) and Warriors (47-31) in Oakland (TNT, 8 p.m. ET).
Basically, it's the first unofficial playoff game of the 2007-08 season. The winner takes a big step toward making the postseason in the Western Conference. The loser gets closer to becoming the answer to a painful trivia question: Which is the best non-playoff team in history (see chart, below right)?
"It's the biggest game of the year. Easy," Warriors swingman Stephen Jackson told reporters after Tuesday's victory over the Kings. "We've just got to be ready. We've got to come with that playoff intensity. We cannot lose this game."
"It's a must-win," Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony said after his team's victory over the Clippers on Tuesday.
And you thought the NBA postseason didn't begin until April 19?
Denver and Golden State are tied for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West with four games remaining. The Nuggets still have to play at Utah, but then return home for their final two against the Rockets and Grizzlies. The Warriors have what should be two home gimmes against the Clippers and Sonics, sandwiched around a trip to Phoenix.
Denver's schedule is slightly tougher, but it owns the tiebreaker (no matter the outcome Thursday) by virtue of being assured of having the better conference record if the teams finish tied. If the Nuggets beat Golden State, they essentially would own a two-game lead with three to play.
With so much at stake, the Nuggets know it's going to be a playoff atmosphere in noisy Oracle Arena, where the Warriors are 26-12 and where the team is hoping for its 30th sellout of the season despite the unusual 5 p.m. local start time.
"Two good teams who deserve to go to the playoffs are going to battle,'' Nuggets coach George Karl said. "When this thing all started evolving six or eight weeks ago, I remember circling the game with Golden State and saying, 'We're probably going to have to win that game.' "
It should be fun to watch. Golden State and Denver rank No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in scoring. Both love to push the tempo and get out on the break. Baron Davis and Allen Iverson are two of the best guards in the game, capable of explosive scoring nights. Anthony has been red hot of late for the Nuggets (40.3 points in the last three games), while Monta Ellis (24.3 points on 62.3 percent shooting in the previous four games) has been sensational for the Warriors.
But as good as they are offensively, Golden State and Denver are that bad on the defensive end.
The Warriors are coming off a season-high 140 points against Sacramento. Yet they still managed to give up 132 to a Kings team playing without injured starters Ron Artest and Brad Miller. Golden State's small-ball lineup leaves it vulnerable in the paint and on the backboards. The return of energetic small forward Mickael Pietrus, who is back after sitting out nine games with groin and hamstring injuries, should help some, but the Warriors still need to pick it up defensively.
"We're going to have to start guarding people a lot better," coach Don Nelson acknowledged.
The Nuggets limited the Clippers to 99 points Tuesday, but it was the first time in their last 13 games that they held an opponent to less than 100. Denver actually boasts a pair of solid interior defenders in Marcus Camby and Kenyon Martin, but it has trouble stopping penetration and generally treats defense as an afterthought. The Nuggets even gave up 151 (in double overtime) in a costly loss Sunday at Seattle.
Two high-scoring teams. One playoff spot. An arena packed with an emotional crowd. Add it up, and it should be a highly entertaining affair Thursday. It's just hard to believe that the loser might be out of the postseason.
The NBA: Where winning about 50 games and still not making the playoffs happens.