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Nuggets hope to clinch division against Blazers

(Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images)

A week ago the Denver Nuggets were in a fight for the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. Now they're just trying to make sure they have home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

After a disappointing home loss to Washington on Sunday and a thrashing at Golden State on Tuesday that all but clinched first place in the conference for the Warriors, Denver found its lead over Houston and Portland shrink to two games. Utah, sitting fifth, is four back and hosts the Nuggets next week.

Denver gave itself some breathing room with a win over San Antonio on Wednesday night and can officially clinch home-court advantage with a home win over the Trail Blazers on Friday night. It's the first of a home-and-home set that finishes up in Portland on Sunday, and if the Nuggets can win Friday night it will clinch at least fourth place in the conference.

A Nuggets win could also clinch at least the No. 3 seed. Denver would be three games up with three to go and would have won the season series against the Trail Blazers.

Denver (52-26) can feel confident after the 113-85 win over the Spurs. The Nuggets had a season-high 41 assists on 47 made baskets.

Denver also improved to 11-1 on the second night of back-to-back games with one left -- Wednesday against Minnesota.

"I've been on a lot of really good basketball teams, part of really good basketball teams, and I've never seen a team go 11-1 on the second night of a back-to back," Nuggets coach Mike Malone said after the game. "That's an incredible stat for us."

Friday, Denver will try to improve to 3-0 against Northwest Division rival Portland and possibly clinch the division. The Trail Blazers (50-28) have surged since mid-February, going 16-5 and have won 11 of their last 13 despite losing center to Jusuf Nurkic to a gruesome left leg injury on March 25.

Others have stepped up, most notably Evan Turner. He had a triple-double with 13 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists in a 116-89 win over Memphis on Wednesday.

Turner has turned in consecutive triple-doubles off the bench and is the first Portland player to do it in back-to-back games since Clyde Drexler during the 1989-90 season. He is the only NBA player, going back to the 1983-84 season, to have back-to-back triple-doubles coming off the bench.

It was an added bonus to come on a night when the Trail Blazers won their 50th game.

"Fifty wins is really dope, because I've never actually done that," Turner said after Wednesday's win.

Portland will try for No. 51 on Friday but could enjoy Wednesday's win and what it meant.

"I told the team 50 wins has always been a benchmark in this league. If you're a 50-win team, I think that really speaks a lot about what you've done in the regular season and the success you've had," Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts said after Wednesday's win. "I think we should all be very proud of what we've done so far this year.

"We've got our work ahead of us, but you need to celebrate moments like this."

--Field Level Media

Updated April 5, 2019

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