Nuggets look to clinch playoff spot in showdown with Suns
In a Western Conference playoff race defined by ever-changing scenarios, there is a simplicity to the Denver Nuggets game in Phoenix on Saturday.
Win and they’re in.
In yet another game that could be billed as the biggest of the season, the Nuggets can clinch their ninth straight playoff berth with a victory over the hard-charging Suns at US Airways Center.
“I think everything’s in a good scenario, even though there’s a nervousness and a stress to it,” Denver coach George Karl said after practice Friday. “It’s a privilege to be stressed. There’s a privilege of being in the battle to compete at the highest level of sports. We’ve worked very hard to get here. Now it’s our opportunity to go to the next step.”
Currently seventh in the West, the Nuggets (34-28) entered Friday a half-game behind the Dallas Mavericks for sixth. The Suns (33-30) were clinging to a half-game lead over the Utah Jazz for the eighth and final playoff spot.
“It’s definitely going to be a tough test,” Denver point guard Andre Miller said. “Phoenix is fighting for their lives, too … We still know that there’s no guarantee.”
The Nuggets have defeated the Suns twice at Pepsi Center this season, giving them the head-to-head tiebreaker. Earning their first sweep of the season series since 2003-04 won’t be easy.
The Suns have won 12 of their past 15 home games and boast the league’s sixth-best record (19-10) since the All-Star break. Phoenix also is 12-1 against Denver at home since the start of the 2004-05 season.
While a victory would be ideal, the Nuggets still control their playoff fate regardless of the outcome. Their final three games are at home against Orlando and on the road against Oklahoma City and Minnesota.
“Don’t get too crazy with it,” Karl said. “I don’t think there’s a must-win game until it becomes a must-win game. Let’s think about sixth. If you get three (wins), you have a chance. That was my message (to the team).
“To get three, we’ve got to take care of the home court, get Minnesota and win a game against a really good team (Phoenix or Oklahoma City) on the road. All three are pretty good challenges at the end of the season to get ready for the playoffs.”
PRAISING JAVALE: In the midst of Denver’s playoff push, Karl has been trying to figure out how to best utilize center JaVale McGee.
Acquired from Washington on March 15, McGee is averaging 9.3 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.63 blocks in 16 games with the Nuggets. The production is pretty efficient considering he played about seven minutes more per game when he was with the Wizards.
“He’s helped us win games,” Karl said. “I think he’s getting better. I think we’ve found a niche with he, Andre and Arron (Afflalo) in the game. It gives us the lob ability, and if they overhelp on the lob, we get the three-ball.”
As for McGee’s practice habits, Karl said: “There’s not one day where we’ve been disappointed.”