Spurs’ win has Thunder, Wolves, Nuggets in 3-way tie atop West

Spurs’ win has Thunder, Wolves, Nuggets in 3-way tie atop West

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SAN ANTONIO — The West got a little wilder on Friday night.

With the Denver Nuggets121-120 loss to the San Antonio Spurs, coupled with wins by the Oklahoma City Thunder and Minnesota Timberwolves, there’s now a three-way tie atop the Western Conference heading into the final day of the NBA regular season.

On Wednesday, the Nuggets defeated the Timberwolves and took a one-game lead on Minnesota and Oklahoma City. It made the reigning NBA champions the favorites to land the No. 1 seed in the West playoffs.

But after Spurs guard Devonte’ Graham‘s 5-foot runner in the lane went in over Nuggets guard Jamal Murray with 0.9 remaining, everything changed. The Spurs forced a 5-second count on the ensuing inbounds play to seal the victory.

“It’s disappointing. I mean, really disappointing,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “We controlled our own destiny and what we accomplished on Wednesday night, we just gave it right back, you know what I mean?”

On Sunday, the Nuggets play the Grizzlies in Memphis, while the Thunder host the Dallas Mavericks and the Timberwolves host the Phoenix Suns.

For Denver, the only way to regain the top seed is if both Oklahoma City and Minnesota lose Sunday.

“It’s easy to get up from Minnesota,” Malone said. “I mean, our guys were locked in, they were focused, they were serious. And I don’t think we had the same approach for tonight’s game. You had a chance to get the one seed and now obviously we’ll likely be the 3-seed. End of the day, no matter what seed we are, we know what we’re capable of. And we got one more game. Let’s try to finish it up right in Memphis and prepare for the first round.”

This marks the first time in NBA history in which three teams — through 81 games — have the same record and a chance to capture the No. 1 seed in their respective conference.

Denver led San Antonio by as many as 23 points before the Spurs stormed back. Not only was it San Antonio’s largest comeback of the season, but it also was the Nuggets’ largest collapse of 2023-24. It also tied the second-largest blown lead for Denver in the past 25 seasons.

In Oklahoma City, Thunder coach Mark Daigneault learned of the Nuggets’ loss as he was walking off the Paycom Center court following his team’s 125-107 win over the Milwaukee Bucks. Matt Tumbleson, the Thunder’s vice president of basketball communications, informed Daigneault of the upset and delivered a warning.

“He said, ‘This is all [the media] is going to want to talk about,’ and you guys are really delivering on that,'” Daigneault said in deadpan fashion. “I don’t really have much of a reaction. We’ve got to run through the finish line.”

Thunder rookie center Chet Holmgren insisted with a straight face that he was preparing mentally for Saturday’s practice, not thinking about playoff seeding.

“Everything else that happens, that’s out of our control,” Holmgren said. “We’re going to focus on what we can control.”

Elsewhere in the West, very little was settled after Friday’s games. The only matchup set in stone is the LA Clippers hosting the Mavericks in the 4-5 matchup — a series that becomes more intriguing because the winner could avoid the defending champions in the second round.

With New Orleans114-109 win over the Golden State Warriors on the road, the Pelicans put themselves in the driver’s seat to earn the No. 6 seed and avoid the play-in tournament. Zion Williamson had 26 points and a career-high six steals to help New Orleans pick up its fourth consecutive victory.

“Zion has been incredible,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said. “It’s been incredible to watch. It never gets old.”

CJ McCollum continued his hot stretch with a team-high 28 points while going 8-of-13 from 3-point range. McCollum is 29-of-47 from distance in his past three games, becoming just the fifth player in NBA history to make that many 3s over a four-game span.

The Pelicans host the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday with a chance to reach 50 wins for only the second time in franchise history. A win gives the Pelicans the 6-seed.

New Orleans had a chance to lock up the 6-seed Friday night, but the Suns came from behind to defeat the Sacramento Kings 108-107 to keep their hopes of avoiding the play-in alive.

Phoenix is one game behind New Orleans in the standings but owns the tiebreaker. The Suns will either finish No. 6 — if they win and the Pelicans lose — or No. 7, if the Pelicans win or if both teams lose Sunday.

The Lakers found themselves in a tough test Friday against the injury-depleted Grizzlies, not securing the 123-120 victory until the final minute. LeBron James and Anthony Davis both played 40-plus minutes.

The Lakers can change their positioning in the Western Conference play-in race with a win against the Pelicans. James, when asked about the workload, simply said, “I’ll be ready for Sunday.”

Lakers coach Darvin Ham said the team has to treat the end of the regular season like there’s no tomorrow.

“We all understand what’s at stake,” Ham said. “We have to push it and we can’t worry about what’s going to happen [next]. … Everyone knows what time it is. It’s that time of the year, man. Whatever we need and however long we need to push guys, it’s just got to happen. And they all understand that.”

At 46-35, the Lakers are currently the No. 8 seed in the West, while the Kings and Warriors are 45-36. The Kings hold the tiebreaker over the Warriors.

If the Lakers defeat the Pelicans on Sunday, they will stay at No. 8 and have two chances to make the playoffs through the play-in tournament.

Sacramento finishes the season hosting the Portland Trail Blazers, while Golden State hosts the Utah Jazz. The Kings and Warriors split the season series but because they are in the same division, the next tiebreaker goes to division record, where the Kings have the edge (10-7 to 7-9).

All of the Western Conference games on Sunday will start at 3:30 p.m. ET.

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