In the race for the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference, the Denver Nuggets greatly strengthened their position with their big Wednesday night victory over the San Antonio Spurs.
This cleared the most difficult remaining game on their schedule, and reduced their magic number (combination of own wins and opponent losses) with respect to both the Memphis Grizzlies and Los Angeles Clippers to three. With four games remaining, Denver can lose one game and still clinch third even if Memphis and L.A. win out (though since they play each other, at least one of them can’t).
Here is a side-by-side look at the remaining schedules of the three teams competing for that third seed which carries the benefits of both home court advantage in the first round and a matchup with the No. 6 seed:
And here are the current standings:
As you can see, the Clippers are two, and the Grizzlies one game back behind the Nuggets. This puts them on equal footing vis-a-vis the Nuggets, as L.A. holds the tiebreaker over Denver, who therefore must finish ahead of them to top them in the standings, while Denver holds it over Memphis, who they’ll top if their records are even.
One bonus luxury for the Nuggets is the fact that the Grizzlies and Clippers must play each other, which effectively means that Denver’s magic number is actually two against one of them or the other. We just don’t know which team yet.
When it comes to the schedules themselves, the Nuggets ostensibly have the easiest of the three teams. By the parameter of opponent winning percentage, they face the weakest set of teams and face no more winning teams in the remainder of the regular season. Memphis has the toughest schedule in this regard, with three of their remaining four games against winning teams.
Like Denver, the Clippers also play mostly weaker opponents, but also play three of their last four games on the road, and have two back-to-backs while Denver and Memphis each have just one.
For the Nuggets, it really boils down to this: They’re now in firm control of their own destiny, and if they beat all the teams they should beat in their last four games — which frankly, even with Ty Lawson and Danilo Gallinari out, is all of them — they’ll own the third seed and home court advantage in the first round, and play either the Houston Rockets or Golden State Warriors rather than the Griz or the Clips.
When Gallo went down I proposed on Twitter that it might be time for the Nuggets to change their motto from “Dig in” to “Dig deep.” To the delight and relief of Nuggets fans they have indeed been doing just that, and if they can keep it up, they’ll be in a great position to make some serious noise in the playoffs despite their setbacks.
Making history? Be sure to tune into Denver’s game against the Mavericks tonight. As most of you are aware, the Nuggets are on the brink of setting a new franchise record of 55 wins. If they can find their way to beating Dallas on the road, you’ll not only see them inch that much closer to clinching the No. 3 seed, you’ll be paying witness to an unprecedented accomplishment in Denver Nuggets history. Don’t miss it.