The Denver Nuggets are jockeying for home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, while the Dallas Mavericks are just trying to keep the league's second longest streak of playoff appearances alive.
Denver also looks to extend its franchise-record home winning streak to 19 games on Thursday night when it faces Dallas.
The Nuggets (51-24) hold a 1 1/2 game lead over the Clippers for third in the Western Conference. However, because the Clippers lead the Pacific Division and the Nuggets trail Oklahoma City in the Northwest, Denver is tied with the Memphis for essentially the last playoff spot with home-court advantage because it's awarded to each division winner, regardless of their finish in the conference.
George Karl's squad helped its cause Wednesday with a 113-96 win over Utah.
"It's a solid win for us in a race that is probably going to go down to the last week,' Karl said.
Denver got the victory despite being without Ty Lawson for the fourth time in five games as he's sidelined indefinitely with a plantar fascia tear.
In his absence, the point guard by-committee duo of Andre Miller and Evan Fournier combined for 31 points, eight assists and just one turnover by Fournier. Miller is averaging 13.2 points on 50.0 percent shooting with 5.6 assists compared to 1.6 turnovers in five starts since March 21.
"He's just smart," Utah's Randy Foye said of Miller. "He plays at his own pace. No one is going to make him hurry. He does a good job controlling the tempo."
The Mavericks (36-38) are 2 1/2 games back of the Lakers for the eighth spot in the West and also trail the Jazz by two games. With only eight games left, Dallas' hopes of reaching the playoffs for the 13th straight season took a severe tumble with Tuesday's 101-81 road loss against the Lakers.
Coach Rick Carlisle's team had won four of five, but any loss the rest of the way becomes potentially devastating.
"It is a hit. It is a game we needed," Carlisle said. "I mean, Dirk (Nowitzki) understands what this stage is about. We have some inexperienced guys that haven't been here, so this is a valuable learning experience for them, but it has a price."
Nowitzki averaged 20.9 points on 55.8 percent shooting - including 47.7 percent from 3-point range - in his previous 14 games before being held to 11 points on 4-of-13 shooting against Los Angeles.
"He's chomping at the bit to get into the eighth spot," said O.J. Mayo, who hit 49.3 percent of his 3-pointers before Nowitzki made his season debut, but is knocking down only 34.6 percent of his shots from beyond the arc in 47 games since. "He carries a big load. That's why we're here, to help lighten it. We have to be ready to throw punches beside him."
Denver claimed a 106-85 victory in Dallas on Dec. 28, ending a three-game losing streak to the Mavericks. Danilo Gallinari scored a career-high 39 points while going 7 of 11 from 3-point range. Nowitzki was held to a season-low five points in his third game back after averaging 26.6 points in his previous 26 games against the Nuggets.
The Associated Press News Service
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