Nuggets have incentive against Warriors

OAKLAND, Calif. — Two teams riding the momentum of significant wins Friday will go after a back-to-back sweep when the Denver Nuggets and Golden State Warriors tangle on Saturday night.

The Nuggets (17-15) recorded an important triumph in the early shuffling for playoff position in the Western Conference when they took advantage of Damian Lillard’s strained right hamstring to thump the Portland Trail Blazers 102-85 on the road Friday night.

The win allowed the Nuggets to move ahead of the Trail Blazers (16-16) in the Western race.

The Warriors (26-6), meanwhile, got a break when Houston (25-6) lost at home to the Los Angeles Clippers, and capitalized to move atop the Western seedings with a hard-earned 113-106 home win over the Los Angeles Lakers.

The win was Golden State’s 11th in a row.

The Nuggets and Warriors will be meeting for the second time this season. Stephen Curry bombed in five 3-pointers and Golden State matched its season high with 18 3’s in a 127-108 win at Denver in early November.

The Warriors have won five straight at home against the Nuggets.

In extending the NBA’s longest active winning streak, the Warriors were playing at home Friday for the second time in a seven-game homestand that features a Christmas Day showdown with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Early arriving Warriors fans got a thrill when they saw Curry working out on the court before the game. But Golden State coach Steve Kerr tempered any enthusiasm that Curry, who has missed the last seven games, might return for the Finals rematch with the Cavaliers.

“He is moving better and better,” Kerr observed. “In my mind, even if he said he felt great, it would be irresponsible to play him (against Cleveland). As much as everybody wants to see him, as much as I want to see him on the floor, we have to be smart with this. 99.999 percent that he’s out.”

The Warriors ran their record to 7-0 during his absence thanks in large part to Kevin Durant’s 33 points against the Lakers. Durant has poured in 28 of more points six times in Curry’s absence.

Golden State got Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala back in action Friday after four- and one-game layoffs. Green contributed 13 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists and two steals to the win.

The Nuggets hope to benefit from Curry’s absence as they did from Lillard being out Friday night. Denver was able to focus its defensive attention on Lillard’s star sidekick, C.J. McCollum, and limited him to 15 points on 7-for-18 shooting.

Nuggets coach Michael Malone credited the defensive effort of Gary Harris, who also found time to score 17 points.

“Any time C.J. was in the game, we had Gary match up with him,” Malone noted. “I thought Gary embraced the opportunity to guard him. He was relentless in his pursuit.”

The Nuggets also got a big game from center Nikola Jokic, who shot 12-for-21 en route to 27 points.

The Warriors also are missing their starting center, Zaza Pachulia, who is bothered by a sore left shoulder.

That’s not necessarily good news for Jokic and the Nuggets.

Rookie Jordan Bell, starting in Pachulia’s place Friday night, was a handful for the Lakers with 20 points and 10 rebounds.

And former Denver big man JaVale McGee burned his old mates for 11 points in just nine minutes off the bench in the earlier meeting.