May 19, 2024

Brighton Journal

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The Spurs' win puts the Thunder, Wolves and Nuggets in a three-way tie atop the West

The Spurs' win puts the Thunder, Wolves and Nuggets in a three-way tie atop the West

SAN ANTONIO — The West got a little wilder Friday night.

With the Denver Nuggets losing 121-120 to the San Antonio Spurs, along with wins for the Oklahoma City Thunder and Minnesota Timberwolves, there is now a three-way tie atop the Western Conference heading into the final day of the NBA regular season.

On Wednesday, the Nuggets beat the Timberwolves and took a one-game lead over Minnesota and Oklahoma City. It has made the NBA champions the favorites for the top seed in the Western Conference playoffs.

But after 5-foot Spurs guard Devonte Graham's runner in the lane beat Nuggets guard Jamal Murray with 0.9 points remaining, everything changed. The Spurs forced a 5-second count on the ensuing inbound play to seal the win.

“It's disappointing. I mean really disappointing,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “We took control of our destiny and what we accomplished on Wednesday night, we just took it back, you know what I mean?”

On Sunday, the Nuggets will play with the Grizzlies in Memphis, while the Thunder will host the Dallas Mavericks, and the Timberwolves will host the Phoenix Suns.

For Denver, the only way to regain the top seed is if both Oklahoma City and Minnesota lose on Sunday.

“It's easy to get up from Minnesota,” Malone said. “I mean our guys were locked in, they were focused, they were serious. And I don't think we had the same approach going into tonight's game. You had a chance to get the No. 1 seed and now obviously we're going to probably be the No. 3 seed.” At the end of the day, regardless of our classification, we know what we are capable of. And we got another match. “Let's try to finish it off right in Memphis and get ready for the first round.”

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This is the first time in NBA history that three teams – through 81 games – have the same record and a chance to capture the top seed in their respective conference.

Denver led San Antonio by 23 points before the Spurs rebounded. Not only was this the biggest comeback for San Antonio this season, it was also the Nuggets' biggest collapse of the 2023-2024 season. It also ties Denver's second-largest lead in the past 25 seasons.

In Oklahoma City, Thunder coach Mark Daigneault learned of the Nuggets' loss while leaving Baycom Center after his team's victory over the Milwaukee Bucks 125-107. Matt Templeson, the Thunder's vice president of basketball communications, informed Daigneault of the upset and issued a warning.

He said: This is all [the media] “He'll want to talk about it,” Daigneault said deadpan, “and you guys really live up to that.” “I don't really have a lot of feedback. We have to get to the finish line.”

Thunder rookie center Chet Holmgren insisted with a straight face that he was mentally preparing for Saturday's practice, and wasn't thinking about playoff seeding.

“Everything that happens is out of our control,” Holmgren said. “We will focus on what we can control.”

Elsewhere in the West, little was settled after Friday's games. The only set matchup is the Los Angeles Clippers hosting the Mavericks in a 4-5 game — a series made more interesting because the winner could avoid the defending champions in the second round.

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With New Orleans' 114-109 win over the Golden State Warriors on the road, the Pelicans put themselves in the driver's seat to earn a No. 6 seed and avoid a playoff spot in the tournament. Zion Williamson scored a career-high 26 points and six steals to help New Orleans achieve its fourth straight win.

“Zion was amazing,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said. “It was incredible to watch. It never gets old.”

CJ McCollum continued his hot stretch with 28 points while hitting 8 of 13 from 3-point range. McCollum is 29 of 47 from long range in his past three games, becoming only the fifth player in NBA history to make that many 3s over a four-game span.

The Pelicans host the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday with a chance to reach 50 wins for only the second time in franchise history. The win gives the Pelicans sixth place.

New Orleans had a chance to secure the sixth seed on Friday night, but the Suns came from behind to beat the Sacramento Kings 108-107 to keep their hopes of avoiding a playoff alive.

Phoenix is ​​one game behind New Orleans in the standings but owns the tiebreaker. The Suns would finish sixth — if they win and the Pelicans lose — or seventh if the Pelicans win or if both teams lose on Sunday.

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The Lakers found themselves facing a difficult test on Friday against the injury-plagued Grizzlies, and did not achieve a 123-120 victory until the last minute. LeBron James and Anthony Davis each played more than 40 minutes.

The Lakers can change their position in the Western Conference playoff race with a win over the Pelicans. When asked about his workload, James simply said: “I'll be ready for Sunday.”

Lakers coach Darvin Hamm said the team should treat the end of the regular season like there is no tomorrow.

“We all understand what is at stake,” Hamm said. “We have to push it and we can't worry about what will happen [next]. …Everyone knows what time it is. It's that time of year, man. Whatever we need and however long we need to push the players, it has to happen. They all understand that.”

At 46-35, the Lakers currently sit in eighth place in the West, while the Kings and Warriors are 45-36. Kings force a tiebreaker over the Warriors.

If the Lakers beat the Pelicans on Sunday, they will still be in eighth place and have two chances to advance to the playoffs through the play-in tournament.

Sacramento ended the season by hosting the Portland Trail Blazers, while Golden State hosted the Utah Jazz. The Kings and Warriors split the season series but since they are in the same division, the next tiebreaker goes to the division's record, where the Kings have the advantage (10-7 to 7-9).

All Western Conference games will begin Sunday at 3:30 PM ET.