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Nuggets await opponent for playoffs

Submitted by Sports on April 13, 2011 – 8:22 amNo Comment

The Denver Nuggets locked up the fifth seed in the Western Conference the last time they took the court, but they’re not yet sure who they’ll be facing in the first round of the playoffs.

What they do know is they won’t be an easy matchup for anyone.

Coming off two of their highest-scoring games of the season, the visiting Nuggets will be short-handed as they look to stay hot in Wednesday’s season finale against the Utah Jazz.

Denver (50-31) was seventh in the West when it traded Carmelo Anthony to New York on Feb. 22, and few expected it to maintain a playoff position over the season’s final two months.

Instead, the Nuggets have improved their spot. They routed Minnesota 130-106 on Saturday to get to within a game of securing the fifth seed, then clinched it with Monday’s 134-111 blowout of Golden State.

Since the Anthony trade, no Western team has a better record than Denver’s 18-6.

“All that’s been going on all year, injuries, trades, whatever you want to name, we’ve been through it,” forward Kenyon Martin told the NBA’s official website. “For the new guys to lock in, 50 wins is always good. It’s a hell of a season. We let some slip, could’ve been better, but we’ll take it.”

The Nuggets could still wind up facing the Los Angeles Lakers, Dallas or Oklahoma City in the first round. They took two of three from the Lakers and three of four from the Mavericks, but were 1-3 against the Thunder.

While coach George Karl has said he’d like to face Dallas in the first round and guard Raymond Felton expressed his desire to face Oklahoma City earlier in the week, swingman J.R. Smith isn’t about to declare a preference.

“I don’t really care who we play,” Smith said. “To be the best team in the league, you have to play the best teams. I don’t think we have to be afraid of anybody. We can take on any challenge and be successful as long as we keep believing in our team.”

Denver won Monday without Wilson Chandler (left ankle), Danilo Gallinari (right ankle), Al Harrington (rest) and Timofey Mozgov (left ankle, knee). While they got Chris Andersen and Arron Afflalo back, Afflalo reaggravated his lingering hamstring injury and Nene left with a strained right groin.

Neither Afflalo nor Nene will face the Jazz (38-43), and they won’t be the only ones. Martin and Felton will rest, and Gallinari is a game-time decision. Chandler and Harrington are expected to play, and Karl believes he’ll have a full roster available for the playoffs with the possible exception of Mozgov.

Utah was struggling before trading Deron Williams and continued to crumble after the deal, but it’s picked up two impressive wins over the last week.

Gordon Hayward scored a season-high 22 points in an 86-85 win over the Lakers on April 5, then C.J. Miles and Devin Harris had 18 apiece Monday in a 90-78 victory at New Orleans.

“We continue to grow,” coach Tyrone Corbin said. “That’s the most encouraging thing is that we’re getting better with the things we’re talking about, especially on the defensive end.”

The Jazz have allowed an average of 93.0 points in their last four games – 15.0 fewer than they surrendered in their previous 14.

Ty Lawson scored a game-high 23 points in the Nuggets’ 103-101 win at Utah on March 3 – their second in three meetings this season.

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