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

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

With the Denver Nuggets’ 121-120 loss to the San Antonio Spurs, coupled with wins by the Oklahoma City Thunder and Minnesota Timberwolves, there is now a three-way tie atop the Western Conference heading into the final day of the regular season. the NBA.

On Wednesday, the Nuggets beat the Timberwolves to take a one-game lead over Minnesota and Oklahoma City. That made the defending NBA champions the favorites to clinch the No. 1 seed in the West playoffs.

But after Spurs guard Devonte’ Graham’s 5-foot runner in the lane sailed past Nuggets guard Jamal Murray with 0.9 left, 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 Wednesday night, we just gave back, you know what I mean?”

On Sunday, the Nuggets take on 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 Oklahoma City and Minnesota lose on 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 to tonight’s game. You had a chance to get the top seed and now, obviously, we probably will be.” The 3 seed. At the end of the day, regardless of our seed, we know what we’re capable of. And we have one more match. Let’s try to finish it in Memphis and get ready for the first round. “

This is the first time in NBA history that three teams – through 81 games – have the same record and a chance to earn the No. 1 seed in their respective conference.

Denver led San Antonio with 23 points before the Spurs came roaring back. This was not only San Antonio’s biggest comeback of the season, but also the Nuggets’ biggest collapse of 2023-24. It also tied Denver’s second-largest lead over the past 25 seasons.

In Oklahoma City, Thunder coach Mark Daigneault learned of the Nuggets’ loss as he left the Paycom Center court after his team’s 125-107 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks. Matt Tumbleson, the Thunder’s vice president of basketball communications, informed Daigneault of the surprise and gave him a warning.

“He said, ‘That’s all (the media) will want to talk about,’ and you guys are really making it happen,'” Daigneault deadpanned. “I don’t really have a reaction. We have to cross 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 that happens is 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 Game 4-5 – a series that becomes more intriguing as the winner could avoid the defending champions in the second round.

With New Orleans’ 114-109 victory over the Golden State Warriors on the road, the Pelicans put themselves in the driver’s seat to earn the sixth seed and avoid the play-in tournament. Zion Williamson had 26 points and a career-high six steals to help New Orleans earn its fourth straight victory.

“Zion was unbelievable,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said. “It’s amazing to watch. It never gets old.”

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

The Pelicans will 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 6th seed.

New Orleans had a chance to lock up the 6th seed on 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 ​​a game behind New Orleans in the standings but has the tiebreaker. The Suns will finish either 6th — if they win and the Pelicans lose — or 7th, if the Pelicans win or both teams lose on Sunday.

The Lakers found themselves in a tough test Friday against the injury-depleted Grizzlies, only securing the 123-120 victory in the final minute. LeBron James and Anthony Davis both played over 40 minutes.

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

Lakers coach Darvin Ham said the team needs 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 things and we can’t worry about what’s going to happen (next). … Everybody knows what time it is. It’s that time of year, man. All we got need and as long as we have to push the guys, it has 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 against the Warriors.

If the Lakers beat the Pelicans on Sunday, they will remain in 8th place and have two chances to qualify for the playoffs through the play-in tournament.

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

All Western Conference games on Sunday will begin at 3:30 p.m. ET.

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