|The race for eighth place: Warriors host Nuggets in critical game for playoff hopes|
|Written by Admin|
|Wednesday, 09 April 2008 12:56|
And in any other NBA season, both players would have been correct.
Instead, the Western Conference's eighth-place teams are headed for an unlikely showdown Thursday night in Oakland. Both of the NBA's highest-scoring clubs are tied for the final playoff spot at 47-31 with just a week left in the regular season, and their final meeting easily could determine which team will end up with the best record in league history to miss the postseason.
``We feel like we should be in, but we still have to fight for it,'' said Jackson, whose Warriors are nine games better than they were at this point last season, when they sneaked into the playoffs and toppled top-seeded Dallas.
``The downfall is, our record is 10 times better than it was last year. Nobody expected to have this record and be fighting to get into the playoffs, but it is what it is.''
Speaking in two locker rooms 368 miles apart after their clubs' victories Tuesday night, both Jackson and Anthony called the game ``a must-win.''
``Two good teams who deserve to go to the playoffs are going to battle on Thursday night,'' coach George Karl said after the Nuggets' 18-point win over the Clippers. ``When this thing all started evolving six or eight weeks ago, I remember circling the game with Golden State. We could get in (to the playoffs) if we don't win, (but) it could give us a big leg up if we do win.''
There's a symmetry to the two exciting clubs that find themselves in this tough spot, thanks to the unprecedented glut of good teams in the West - and the improbable 22-game winning streak that shot the fifth-place Houston Rockets ahead of both teams.
The Warriors and the Nuggets both average more than 110 points per game, but they're also two of the most defensively deficient, yielding roughly 107 points each night. They're both inconsistent, with Denver sputtering through losses to Seattle and Sacramento last week while Golden State lost three of four on a tough road trip.
Still, if either team was in the Eastern Conference this season, it would be in fourth place. Instead, both clubs trail seventh-place Dallas (49-29) by two games with four to play.
``It's something that is just crazy right now,'' Denver guard Anthony Carter said. ``The only thing we can do is keep winning, and hopefully everything will play out in our favor. Being 16 games over .500, I never thought we would still be fighting for a playoff spot.''
The Warriors seem a bit bewildered by their predicament, given their remarkable improvements and a maturing roster. Golden State had to win 16 of its final 21 games last season just to get that No. 8 spot, ending a 12-year playoff drought.
Though coach Don Nelson is always quick to point out his team's defensive woes - particularly after allowing the banged-up Kings to score 132 points in Golden State's victory Tuesday night - he has encouraged his players to embrace Golden State's playoff squeeze.
``Our goal is to try to win five games in a row,'' Al Harrington said. ``If we do that, we're definitely in. Ain't nothing anybody can do about that. ... Whatever team decides to play defense is going to win that game, and I think we have an excellent chance, especially on our home floor.''
The Warriors expect their 30th sellout crowd of the season Thursday, though the 5 p.m. local start time is 2 1/2 hours earlier than normal, which could keep unobservant fans away until halftime.
And if the game comes down to the final minutes, as many of these teams' tough games seem to do, few clubs are better equipped to finish. Baron Davis has been one of the NBA's most dynamic late-game performers of the last few years, while Anthony and Allen Iverson also have reputations as outstanding closers.
``Our defense can improve, and it will improve as each game comes about,'' said Davis, who had 33 points and nine assists against Sacramento. ``But for the most part, we do what we need to do, and that's win, survive, and it's on to the next game, which is the most important game of the season.''
AP Sports Writer John Nadel in Los Angeles contributed to this report.