Elite Eight: Nuggets set for sprint to the finish line

Denver in heated battle with L.A. Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies for No. 3 seed
by Aaron Lopez

Eight games, 15 days, big implications.

Locked in a battle with the Los Angeles Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies for the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference, the Denver Nuggets are poised for a frenetic finish over the next two weeks.

Rather than worry about how things will shake out, the Nuggets are keeping the strategy simple.

“We just have to go out and try to win as many games as possible,” coach George Karl said.

The Nuggets (50-24) and Grizzlies (50-24) are tied for the third-best record in the West, but Denver owns the tiebreaker by virtue of winning the season series 3-1. The Clippers (49-26) are a game-and-a-half behind Denver and Memphis but hold the tiebreaker over both teams because they lead the Pacific Division.

By NBA rule, a division winner can finish no lower than the No. 4 seed. Home court, however, is determined by record, so the Nuggets or Grizzlies could still open the playoffs at home against Los Angeles even as the No. 5 seed.

“We have to get better game by game and hopefully we can keep moving up,” forward Corey Brewer said. “It’s all about winning. We have to do whatever we have to do to win games.”

Here’s a look at Denver’s final eight games in the chase to be No. 3.

April 3 at Utah
Riding a five-game winning streak, the Jazz are trying to hold off the Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas Mavericks for the final playoffs spot in the West. Utah has lost two of three against Denver but is 28-9 at home.

April 4 vs. Dallas
The Mavericks will already be in Denver when the Nuggets return from Salt Lake City to complete a back-to-back set. Denver is 6-8 in the second of back-to-back games this season.

April 6 vs. Houston
A possible playoff preview if Houston can overtake Golden State for the No. 6 seed and Denver finishes third. The Nuggets are 3-0 against the Rockets, who hope to get leading scorer James Harden (ankle) back in the lineup soon.

April 10 vs. San Antonio
The Spurs are trying to hold off Oklahoma City for the top spot in the West. San Antonio’s priority will be keeping Tim Duncan and Tony Parker fresh and getting Manu Ginobili healthy for the playoffs.

April 12 at Dallas
This could be desperation time for the Mavs as they try to extend their streak of 12 consecutive playoffs appearances. The Nuggets won in Dallas on Dec. 28.

April 14 vs. Portland
The Trail Blazers have lost eight straight games at Pepsi Center but they are still dangerous with leading Rookie of the Year candidate Damian Lillard. Denver leads the season series 2-1.

April 15 at Milwaukee
It will be an early morning arrival for the Nuggets as the complete their final back-to-back set of 2012-13. The Bucks’ motivation could depend on whether they are still trying to catch Boston for the No. 7 seed in the East.

April 17 vs. Phoenix
Depending on where things stand with playoff seedings, the Nuggets could use this game to get some rest for their rotation players. Denver also could be shooting for its franchise-record 38th home win.


WHEN: 7 p.m. MT
WHERE: EnergySolutions Arena, Salt Lake City
TV; RADIO: Altitude; 104.3 FM, AM-950


F Danilo Gallinari
F Kenneth Faried
C Kosta Koufos
G Andre Iguodala
G Andre Miller

F Gordon Hayward
F Paul Millsap
C Al Jefferson
G Randy Foye
G Mo Williams

Ty Lawson (heel) is day-to-day; Julyan Stone (knee) is out.
UTAH: Enes Kanter (shoulder) is out.

The Nuggets are 3-10 when playing in Utah since 2005-06, but have gone 2-3 since 09-10 on the road . . . Denver has won eight out of their last 10 home games against Utah . . . Despite their recent stretch in Denver, Utah has still performed relatively well at the Pepsi Center in recent years, having gone 11-15 in Denver since the 2000-01 season . . . The Nuggets are just 12-16 overall against the Jazz since 2005-06 . . . The Jazz franchise has had more 40-point performances against the Nuggets than any other team in the NBA – 18 Jazz players have scored 40+ versus Denver since 1976-77 (next closest would be nine by Houston). Of the 18 40-point performances, 11 of those were done by former Nuggets assistant coach Adrian Dantley . . . The Nuggets went 3-1 against the Jazz in 2009-10, marking their first series win over Utah since the 2003-04 season (3-1) . . . Denver and Utah met in the opening round of the 2010 NBA Playoffs, with the fifth seeded Jazz knocking off the fourth seeded Nuggets (4-2) . . . With Denver’s 2009-10 Northwest Division title, the Nuggets and Jazz have accounted for five of the last seven Northwest division titles.