Nuggets Pumped Up for Pivotal Weekend

Philip Maymin
Basketball News Services 

The Denver Nuggets fell asleep with the barest of leads over the Utah Jazz for the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot and woke up with an additional half-game margin and within 2 games of Houston, who they face tonight. A win tonight would be a huge boost for Denver's playoff chances, head coach Jeff Bzdelik's Coach of the Year chances, Earl Boykins's Sixth Man of the Year chances, and Carmelo Anthony's Rookie or Co-Rookie of the Year chances. In other words, to put it bluntly, everybody wants to win tonight.

But the Rockets will not concede without a fight. Denver beat them last time but NBA teams have this persistent habit of viewing game film and trying to adjust for the mistakes they made the last time. Don't expect Houston to let Denver run them out of their own building. Last time, they can fault the rare air up there, but this time, playing in the Toyota Center, Yao Ming will put a stop to any drives to the basket, and Kelvin Cato, back from injury, will also look to beef up the middle for the Rockets.

Nevertheless, a guy can dream, can't he? A win over the Rockets would bring the Nuggets to just one game behind Houston for the seventhplayoff spot. Not just in the playoffs, but the seventh seed! What an amazing turnaround that would be.

Much of Denver's playoff chances actually hinge on the poor performance of other teams, namely Portland, Utah, and to a lesser extent Houston. If those teams stumble, and Denver doesn't, they are guaranteed the playoffs. They still have a tough schedule ahead of them even after the Houston game tonight, but if they can also beat Portland tomorrow night, they will have almost no team close enough to catch them, even if the Nuggets aren't able to beat the Kings at home or the Spurs on the road for their final two games.

As many of the Nuggets themselves would likely tell you, this weekend is a pivotal one for their club. And it all starts tonight.

The Nuggets visit the Rockets in Houston tonight to complete their two game road trip and rematch against the team they beat at home last Friday. The game starts at 6:30pm MT and will be broadcast on Fox Sports Net and NBA League Pass.

The Nuggets did not practice yesterday. Instead they had a team meeting. "The mental aspect is as important as the physical this time of the year," coach Jeff Bzdelik toldThe Rocky Mountain News.

Coach Buzz hasn't decided is he's going to start Voshon Lenard or Jon Barry at the shooting guard spot tonight.

Mark Pope
(knee) andJeff Trepagnier(ankle) are on the injured list.


Chris Tomasson ofThe Rocky Mountain News writes: Earl Boykins, all 5-foot-5 of him, took the ball on a fast break last Friday and went right at Houston's 7-foot-6 center Yao Ming.Boykins dropped in a layup over Yao while the big fellow was trying to figure out what was happening. "That was luck," Denver Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony said of his teammate's impressive play. Anthony, though, was joking. He has seen enough of the diminutive guard to know Boykins routinely confounds bigger players with his trickery. In fact, don't be surprised if Boykins again challenges Yao when the teams meet tonight at the Toyota Center (6:30 MDT, Fox Sports Net). There is no NBA award for biggest heart. So the Nuggets are doing the next-best thing. They're touting Boykins for the NBA's Sixth Man Award. Boykins is averaging 10.3 points and 3.5 assists per game but it's hard to really measure with statistics what Boykins does. He does what a sixth man is supposed to do.

The Boulder Daily Camerapreviews tonight's matchup: Everyone is focused on the race for the No. 8 playoff spot with Utah and Portland. But the fact is, the Nuggets are only two games behind Houston for the No. 7 spot.

Adam Thompson ofThe Denver Postwrites: "This weekend will be the make or break for us," Nuggets guard Earl Boykins said."A lot of people think it will come down to the last game for us, but I honestly believe if we take care of business this weekend, we can wrap things up." Denver players openly profess to be keeping keener eyes on sports tickers lately. Meanwhile, in Salt Lake City, where the Jazz is trying to get to the playoffs for the 21st consecutive season, coach Jerry Sloan is at least talking like the other games on the Delta Center scoreboard don't concern him. "We'll know after 82 games where we are," he said this week. "Somebody will tell us. I don't really see that (scoreboard watching) does any good. The job is to play and play hard every day." Until recently, the Rockets seemed the one team locked into a specific slot. But losing five straight games loosened their grip on seventh.

The Denver Poststaff write: With less than a week before the NBA closes voting for postseason awards, Nuggets point guard Earl Boykins has four more games to state his case for the Sixth Man Award.In 22.5 minutes per game this season, the point guard has averaged 10.3 points and 3.5 assists. Asked about his prospects Thursday, Boykins said: "I really haven't thought about it, personally. I just know that just to be considered is a great honor. I think a lot of it has to do with the success we've had this year. I attribute it to the team, not to anything I've done." In his eyes, his chances of winning will increase dramatically if the Nuggets qualify for the postseason.