Nuggets-Warriors Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated April 07, 2012
With improved play and a favorable portion of their schedule upcoming, the Denver Nuggets have a golden opportunity to strengthen their grip on a playoff spot. The Nuggets look to capitalize on the first of three straight games against struggling opposition Saturday night when they open a home-and-home set with the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena. Denver (30-25) has won four of its last six games, posting impressive victories during that stretch against Chicago, Orlando and Phoenix. That success has the Nuggets tied with Houston for seventh in the Western Conference, 1 1/2 games ahead of ninth-place Utah and the same margin behind Dallas for sixth. Now would appear to be the time for Denver to improve its playoff position. The club's next two games are against the Warriors (21-33), who are 3-12 since trading leading scorer Monta Ellis to Milwaukee on March 14. After wrapping up this home-and-home set Monday, the Nuggets will host Minnesota two days later in a matchup with another team outside the playoff race. The Nuggets bounced back from a loss to Western Conference-worst New Orleans by scoring the game's final nine points in a 105-99 victory over the Suns on Friday. Andre Miller, who had 15 points, seven assists and seven rebounds in the win, is already looking toward the playoffs. "I'd like to be out there in May," the 36-year-old guard said. "I haven't been out of the first round so we've got to keep pushing and hopefully we can get past that." Another big effort from Aaron Afflalo would help. He had 30 points while hitting 11 of 19 from the floor - 5 of 9 from beyond the arc - Friday. Afflalo has a career-high 14.7 points per game this season, but he's shown his importance over the last eight games. He's averaging 23.2 points in the five victories during that stretch. Despite that recent track record, Denver failed to capitalize on Afflalo's 26 points in a 109-101 loss to Golden State on Feb. 9. The Nuggets also fell 116-114 in their last visit to Oracle Arena on Feb. 9, 2011. The Warriors have lost seven of eight overall and return home after capping a 1-3 trip with a 104-98 loss to Utah on Friday. David Lee had 26 points and 12 rebounds against the Jazz and continues to be Golden State's top scoring threat since Ellis' departure. The forward-center is averaging 23.1 points over the last 15 games - 26.8 in the past six. Lee was held to 12 points and eight boards in the last meeting with the Nuggets. Rookie Klay Thompson is looking to build on his 23 points from Friday. The swingman is averaging 17.8 points in 16 games as Ellis' direct replacement in the lineup. Thompson was averaging 8.0 points in the previous 38 games - one start. However, that includes a 19-point effort on 8-of-11 shooting against the Nuggets on Feb. 9.
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