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NBA Daily: Nuggets’ Playoff Fortunes Rise as Clippers’ Fall

With a handful of games left, the Nuggets’ playoff hopes are brightening while the Clippers’ are fading, writes James Blancarte.

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The Denver Nuggets and the Los Angeles Clippers have spent the late stages of the 2017-18 season trying to work their way into the playoff picture. Both teams have attempted to hold their own in the 9th and 10th position while hoping that one or more of the teams above them would falter.

Injuries to Kawhi Leonard and Andre Roberson have thus far failed to cause complete tailspins to the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder, who currently hold fourth and fifth place in the Western Conference, respectively. The Utah Jazz have continued to play inspired defense since the return of center Rudy Gobert, combined with the rookie of the year worthy play of guard Donovan Mitchell. Utah currently holds the sixth seed. Finally, the injuries to Jimmy Butler and DeMarcus Cousins have not derailed the playoff hopes for the Minnesota Timberwolves and New Orleans Pelicans, who currently hold seventh and eighth place in the Western Conference, respectively

However, fortunes can change in the blink of an eye. With the season quickly coming to an end, the Nuggets and Clippers essentially need to win every remaining game to save their respective postseason hopes. On a wild Sunday, one of those teams did just that. The wild sequence of events orchestrated by Nuggets guard Jamal Murray Sunday night may go down as one of the key moments that led the team to the playoffs.

Against the Milwaukee Bucks, Murray came up with six of the team’s final eight points, including the steal and ensuing three free throws he hit with icy precision to tie the game and ultimately send it to overtime. Give the Nuggets credit for overcoming a 16-point deficit without two of their starters, Gary Harris and Wilson Chandler, and still finding a way to win. Center Nikola Jokic, who nearly won the game on a catch and shoot three-pointer in the last second of the game, summed up the team’s effort.

“It was that kind of game,” Jokic told the media. “Everybody stepped up really big.”

As for the Clippers, they came up on the wrong end of a close game. The Clippers were bolstered by the strong play of Lou Williams as well as Tyrone Wallace and big man Montrezl Harrel. Credit to Williams who had not done much damage on the offensive end before exploding for 15 points in the fourth quarter. Unfortunately, their inconsistent effort, especially on the defensive end, combined with a poor outing from Danilo Gallinari ultimately doomed the Clippers.

Gaillinari, who had been out for 18 games with a fractured hand, explained the discomfort he felt during the game as a result of a fall he took early on.

“Especially tonight after I fall, it didn’t feel good,” Gallinari told the media. “And then in the second half, I was feeling constant pain. But we all got to fight for the same goal and for the same thing.”

While the Clippers had been hot for a while, they have cooled off as of late, going 4-6 in their last 10 games. Gallinari’s return was underwhelming with his hand continuing to be an issue. In addition, Milos Teodosic remains out with foot issues. Looking forward, each team has five games remaining. With this in common, the fortunes of each team varies greatly.

The Clippers, who are two games back of the Pelicans for eighth seed and one game back of the Nuggets, have to hope that the Nuggets and Pelicans rack up losses while the Clippers win every game from here on out. Easier said than done. The Clippers have to finish the season against the Spurs, Jazz (on the road), Nuggets, Pelicans and the Los Angeles Lakers. Four of these five games are against playoff rivals and the Lakers would relish the opportunity to play the spoiler.

While the Nuggets are still one game behind the Pelicans for an eighth-place tie and they do hold the tiebreaker over them. The Nuggets are 5-5 in their last 10 games after surviving a recent seven-game road trip where they held onto a 3-4 record. They finish the season against the Indiana Pacers (who just defeated the Clippers), the Timberwolves, Clippers (road), Trail Blazers and Timberwolves (road) again. Each game should be competitive. Keep an eye out for the games against the Timberwolves, who could be in trouble should they fail to hold off the surging Nuggets. The Timberwolves only have four games remaining so these two games are key, though they do hold the tiebreaker against Pelicans and Nuggets.

The Pelicans deserve credit for hanging on as well as they have behind the MVP level play of superstar Anthony Davis in the absence of Cousins. Despite this recent strong play, the Pelicans have been faltering as of late. At a time when every loss could be critical, the Pelicans have lost their last four games.

With the season on the line, these teams are going down to the wire. Yesterday’s games could preview where the season is heading. The race in the Western Conference has been and continues to be a frenzy and Sunday’s outcomes could play a big factor in how the playoff picture is determined.

James Blancarte is a writer for Basketball Insiders. He is also an Attorney based in Los Angeles, California.

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