Trail Blazers-Nuggets Preview
While they lost their chance to finish as the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference, the Denver Nuggets still have plenty left to play for during the final week of the season.
Still fighting for home-court advantage in the first round, the Nuggets will try to set franchise records with their 37th home win and 55th victory overall on Sunday when they take on the free-falling Portland Trail Blazers.
Denver (54-25) hopes to bounce back with its sixth win in seven games after failing to set the single-season franchise win mark in a 108-105 overtime loss at Dallas on Friday.
The Nuggets have finished with 54 wins twice previously, the last time with Carmelo Anthony leading the way in 2008-09.
The loss eliminated them from the race for second in the West, but they are still battling Memphis and the Los Angeles Clippers for home court in the opening round.
"I'm not going to overreact to anything other than we have three games left,'' coach George Karl said. "I think we all want third. But if we get fourth or fifth, we've had a helluva year and we'll get ready to go play in the playoffs.''
Karl's club appears to have a strong opportunity to get back on track against the visiting Blazers, losers of 10 straight overall and 23 of their last 25 in Denver.
Denver, an NBA-best 36-3 at home, has won a franchise-record 21 straight games at the Pepsi Center by an average of 12.2 points. The Nuggets are trying to surpass their best home record of 36-5 established in 1976-77.
Although forward Danilo Gallinari (knee) is out for the season, leading scorer Ty Lawson returned on Friday after missing five games with a right plantar fasciitis tear and scored 13 on 5-of-7 shooting off the bench.
Lawson has played well in this series, totaling 54 points and 18 assists while making 22 of 41 from the field in the last two meetings.
Chandler hit a tiebreaking 3-pointer with 14.9 seconds remaining in overtime in the Nuggets' 115-111 home win over the Blazers on Jan. 15.
The Nuggets have scored 109.3 per game on 49.7 percent shooting during their home win streak and should be able to maintain that pace against the Blazers, who have allowed an average of 108.1 points on 51.7 percent shooting during their skid.
Portland (33-46), which hasn't won since March 22, was outscored 26-7 in the third quarter on Friday in a 106-90 home loss to Oklahoma City. The 10-game losing streak is the franchise's longest since dropping 11 straight in 2005-06.
"The third quarter, our offense was ground down,'' coach Terry Stotts said. "We stopped moving the ball. We didn't create shots and we were loose with the turnovers. It was a bad combination.''
While J.J. Hickson returned to the lineup after missing a game with a sore lower back, Portland is expected to be without starters Wesley Matthews (right ankle) and Nicolas Batum (right shoulder) again in this contest.
Hickson has played well in this series, averaging 18.3 points and 15.0 rebounds while shooting 57.6 percent in the three games.
The Blazers have scored 93.2 per game during their lengthy slump, but averaged 107.0 while losing two of three close games against the Nuggets.