You really can’t ask for anything more from a professional basketball game than what the Denver Nuggets and the Los Angeles Lakers gave us last night at the Pepsi Center. Thankfully, the Nuggets came out on top, winning a 98-96 thriller that could be called an instant classic. But there’s a 6-foot-6-inch caveat to this win: Lakers star Kobe Byrant didn’t play due to a bum knee.
One night after getting knocked unconscious in a win over Oklahoma City, Carmelo Anthony led the Nuggets with 31 points and blocked a shot from the Lakers’ Derek Fisher at the buzzer that could have won the game (via The Associated Press).
The score probably should not have been so close: As The Denver Post points out, the Nuggets led the Lakers by as many as 15 points at one point during the game. They couldn’t hold it, though, and trailed by as many as seven points in the fourth quarter. But Melo’s play and a heavy contribution from guard J.R. Smith took the Nuggets over the hump. Smith was a new record holder by the end of the night, finishing with 26 points, and the NBA.com box score will show him in the lead for the most three pointers of all time for a Denver Nugget.
The win was crucial in the playoff-seeding race, with just three games left in the season and a log-jam at the second spot in the Western Conference. The win gives the Nuggets a 52-27 record, putting them a game up on Utah in the Northwest Division and one game up on the Dallas Mavericks for the second spot in the Western Conference. The Nuggets need to win two of last three games to claim a second straight division title, as well as crucial home-court advantage in the playoffs.
The seeding is also important in terms of first-round playoff matchups. If the Nuggets hold the second spot and things don’t shift any further, they’ll play the San Antonio Spurs in the first round. If they drop to third, they’ll play the Portland Trail Blazers, a dangerous team with a rabid fan base.