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NBA ICYMI: For the Nuggets and Wolves, the Playoffs Start on Wednesday

The rest of the Western field is set, but Denver’s win over Portland forces a winner-takes-all showdown to close the season. Plus, LeBron storms the Garden, Russ is on the verge of another triple-double season, and everything else you may have missed from Monday night’s action.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing/USA TODAY Sports

All the need-to-know info from Monday’s slate.


The Takeaway

The Nuggets are still alive despite the Spurs, Pelicans, Thunder, and Timberwolves all scrambling around in the kitchen trying to stomp them dead. “Clutch” isn’t the first descriptor that comes to mind when thinking about Mike Malone’s young Denver roster, yet the team has managed six straight wins against plus-.500 teams—the first such streak in franchise history—to keep itself in contention.

On Monday, Denver out–Dame Time’d Damian Lillard and the Blazers, 88-82, in a game that screamed, What If Basketball, But No Scoring? Similar to how they beat the Timberwolves last Thursday, the Nuggets let Portland beat itself. However poorly the Nuggets shot (23.1 percent from 3, 37.3 percent overall), the Blazers were worse. Lillard, the best free throw shooter in the league this season, missed four attempts at the line that proved to be crucial, while Jamal Murray hit two with 30 seconds left to give Denver a two-possession lead. (Speaking of Murray, let me walk back not giving the Nugs the “clutch” title—this is the second time during this win streak that Murray has owned the charity stripe, with the first coming against Milwaukee. He hit three straight to send it to overtime.)

Somehow, with what looked like one of the NBA’s hardest remaining schedules six games ago, Denver is in control of its own fate. The Nuggets face Minnesota on Wednesday—the Wolves lead the season series, 2-1—in the final game of the season. Either Nikola Jokic, Murray, and Gary Harris will make their first playoffs, or Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, and [looks for a Timberwolf who was not once a Bull] Nemanja Bjelica will.

The Cheat Sheet

  • With a surprisingly rowdy 98-85 victory (shout-out Jack Cooley; yes, this Jack Cooley) over the Kings, San Antonio clinched a playoff spot for the 21st consecutive season. The Pelicans and Thunder also both made it official on Monday thanks to a 113-100 win over the Clippers and a 115-93 win over the Heat, respectively.
  • If Russell Westbrook can grab 16 rebounds on Wednesday against the Grizzlies, our reigning MVP will average a triple-double for the second season in a row. Wouldn’t your favorite talking head just love that!
  • LeBron “King of New York” James gave the Knicks another loss at home, 123-109. Enes Kanter, out with back spasms and a wrist injury, wasn’t able to defend the city’s honor this time, but rookie Frank Ntilikina ended with a career-high 17 points to go with five assists and six rebounds.
  • Taj Gibson left the court grabbing his shoulder in the first quarter of Minnesota’s 113-94 win against Memphis. He didn’t return due to neck soreness. Gibson said after the game that he’s hopeful he will be fine, but “can’t move it from left to right at the moment,” a state I would not personally define as “fine.” Especially with Jimmy Butler still playing limited minutes, Gibson’s glue-guy presence is essential for the Wolves’ chances against Denver.
  • This Cavaliers team has never met a past-his-prime veteran it didn’t like. Cleveland will sign Kendrick Perkins, who was more recently on Area 21 than he was an NBA court, to its final playoffs roster spot. Perk’s last game was with New Orleans in April 2016. This season, the big man was with Cleveland’s G League affiliate, the Canton Charge, before leaving in February in hopes of getting picked up to a roster one last time. Follow your dreams, kids. Er, 33-year-old men. (Relevant: Perk is somehow only 50 days older than LeBron.)

Plays of the Night

Anthony Davis’s 7-foot-6 wingspan knows no limits—

—until it does:

Is this his life or LeBron flashing before Michael Beasley’s eyes?

It’s both.