After clinching home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, the Nuggets can make preserving the health of their banged-up lineup a priority in the final game of the regular season.
The Nuggets hope that doesn’t come at the expense of their franchise-record home winning streak or the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference as they face the Suns on Wednesday night.
Already without Danilo Gallinari because of an ACL injury, Denver (56-25) received some promising news Monday when an MRI showed Kenneth Faried — another starting forward — suffered only a sprained ligament in his left ankle a day earlier against Portland. Faried, who averages 11.5 points and 9.2 rebounds, will miss this contest and is expected to be day-to-day for the playoffs.
Point guard Ty Lawson has been playing through a heel injury but gave the Nuggets a big lift Monday with 26 points, including the go-ahead basket with 9.3 seconds left, in a 112-111 win in Milwaukee.
With the victory, Denver locked up home-court advantage in the opening round of the playoffs. That’s especially huge for the Nuggets considering they’ve won 22 straight at the Pepsi Center and have the NBA’s best home record at 37-3.
“I’ve always felt that home court, if it was an even series, it’s tough for teams to win twice on your home court,” coach George Karl said. “And our home court, I know teams don’t like to play there. Hopefully mentally they struggle with the thought of playing there.”
If the Pacific Division champion Clippers beat the Trail Blazers on Tuesday, the Nuggets will need to win this game to make sure they get the West’s third seed. If the Clippers win Tuesday as well as Wednesday’s visit to Sacramento, they would get the No. 3 spot if Denver loses.
That position would mean a first-round date with Houston or Golden State. If the Nuggets don’t get it, they’d have to face the Clippers or Memphis.
Wilson Chandler had 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting Monday as the Nuggets added to their franchise record with their 56th win. Chandler, starting for Gallinari, is averaging 20.0 points on 51.3 percent shooting over the last five games.
The Nuggets have scored 109.7 per game and shot 49.8 percent during their home win streak and face a Phoenix defense that has allowed an average of 107.7 points over its last 12.
These teams have split two meetings, but both came in Phoenix and the Nuggets won 108-93 on March 11 in the most recent one. The Suns have lost nine of 10 in Denver.
Phoenix (25-56) will finish at the bottom of the West with its worst record since going 16-66 during its inaugural 1968-69 season.
However, the Suns have won two of three after dropping 10 straight, and they snapped a franchise-record seven-game home losing streak with a 119-112 victory over the Rockets on Monday behind Luis Scola’s 26 points and 15 rebounds.
“We all know it was a rough year, but I wish the year would have 100 games left so we could turn this around,” said Scola, who has averaged 23.3 points in his last four trips to Denver. “The day we finish the year, we can start thinking about next season, and I’m looking forward to that.”
Goran Dragic added 21 points and 14 assists Monday and now seeks his fifth straight double-double. He had 21 points in the Suns’ win over the Nuggets on Nov. 12 but only seven in the loss to them last month.