ASSOCIATED PRESS — The inside track to home-court advantage throughout the Western Conference playoffs will be on the line when the Denver Nuggets go head-to-head with the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday night in Oakland, Calif.
The Warriors (52-24) enter the showdown one game up on the Nuggets (51-25) and can take a big step toward locking down the top record in the West for the fourth time in the last five years with a win.
Golden State has won two of the first three meetings between the teams this season. A third win would clinch the season series, which is the first tie-breaker, meaning the Warriors, with a win, would in essence have a three-game lead over the Nuggets with just five games remaining.
The Warriors’ remaining schedule is not difficult, with home games against Cleveland and the Los Angeles Clippers, and road contests against three teams already assured of being lottery-bound — the Los Angeles Lakers, New Orleans and Memphis.
A win by the Nuggets, on the other hand, would complicate things in that it not only would create a tie atop the conference, but also square the season series.
The next tie-breaker is conference record, and Denver (31-15) currently holds a slight edge there over Golden State (31-16).
But the Nuggets’ remaining schedule is much more difficult, featuring four straight games against Western playoff clubs — San Antonio, a home-and-home with Portland and at Utah — before finishing up at home against Minnesota.
That being the case, a Denver loss on Tuesday night would create the distinct possibility of the Nuggets getting caught from behind for the No. 2 seeding.
Houston and Portland remain in that mix.
Both Golden State and Denver have shown vulnerabilities of late.
The Warriors have lost four of their last eight home games, but are coming off one of their best, a 137-90 blowout of Charlotte, an Eastern playoff contender.
In the end, the game served for Golden State as little more than a warm-up for Tuesday’s showdown.
“Nights like tonight show our full potential,” Warriors guard Stephen Curry boasted to reporters after the game. “It’s obviously starting to get real with the countdown being what it is. It’s a good feeling right now, so we have to keep going.”
The Warriors have had that feeling in their last two games against the Nuggets. After losing 100-98 at Denver in October, Golden State has blown out the Northwest Division leader by 31 and 17 points in their last two meetings.
The Nuggets had drawn even with the Warriors before falling 95-90 at home against Washington on Sunday night. Denver has alternated wins and losses in its last six games.
The loss to the Wizards was particularly disturbing. Jamal Murray couldn’t finish the important contest after twisting his left ankle, and the Denver offense continued a recent slump with a 10-point third quarter that let Washington back into the game.
“If we don’t figure it out going on this roadie, it’s going to be tough to win,” veteran forward Paul Millsap said to reporters after the game of the team’s offensive woes. “It’s something we’ve got to look at, for sure, and try to nip it in the bud.”