ASSOCIATED PRESS — The top two teams in the Western Conference meet in a game that could have homecourt ramifications in the playoffs when the Denver Nuggets tackle the Golden State Warriors on Friday night in Oakland, Calif.
The Warriors (44-20) will take the court one game ahead of the Nuggets (43-21) in the race for top seeding and homecourt advantage throughout the Western playoffs. But each has lost three of four, allowing Houston (39-25), which has won six in a row, to sneak back into the picture.
The teams split earlier meetings, both at Denver, with the contests not resembling each other.
The Nuggets won 100-98 in October by taking advantage of a 42-24 disparity in free-throw opportunities. Denver outscored Golden State 24-19 from the line to compensate for shooting just 40.7 percent overall and 18.8 percent on 3-pointers.
The Nuggets also had an edge in free-throw points in the rematch, 13-7, but the hot-shooting Warriors made that a moot point by hitting 21 3-pointers, getting eight from Stephen Curry and five apiece from Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson. Golden State won the January game 142-111.
The clubs will meet for a fourth and final time on April 2 at Golden State.
Each team features a new look since they last saw each other, and neither addition has worked out as planned.
Warriors center DeMarcus Cousins will be playing his 18th game Friday after missing almost an entire calendar year due to a ruptured Achilles tendon. He debuted for Golden State on Jan. 18, three days after the win at Denver.
Things went well for awhile, with Golden State winning 10 of Cousins’ first 11 games. But they’ve since gone 3-5, which includes losses the two times Cousins was given a rest. He has recorded a positive plus/minus in just seven of his 17 games.
Statistically, it seems Cousins’ addition has had a negative impact on the Warriors defensively. They’ve allowed an average of 119.5 points in their last eight games, including 128 in an embarrassing 33-point home defeat Tuesday against Boston.
“It’s an adjustment trying to figure things out with how we want to play with the coverages,” Cousins told reporters after the Celtics had burned the Warriors for 51 percent shooting overall and 41.2 percent on 3-pointers Tuesday. “I’m trying to meet the needs in the coverages that they want, but it’s an adjustment period right now trying to figure it out.”
Warriors guard Klay Thompson is expected to play after missing the last two games with right knee soreness.
Meanwhile, the Nuggets have had guard Isaiah Thomas the last eight games after he was deemed fully recovered from hip surgery.
Like Golden State, Denver seemed to be inspired initially by the addition, recording wins in Thomas’ first four games. But the Nuggets have since gone 1-3.
Thomas hasn’t produced nearly the offensive firepower he packed in the past, averaging 9.0 points while shooting just 37.7 percent overall and 27.3 percent on 3-pointers.
Nuggets coach Michael Malone came to his new guy’s support earlier this week.
“A lot of people are fixating on the ‘Isaiah impact’ and how is it going,” Malone told reporters. “It’s not one player. I don’t want anybody on our team ever becoming a scapegoat for our collective problems.”