The Denver Nuggets clinched a playoff berth yesterday before the team even laced up its sneakers to take on the Orlando Magic in Florida, thanks to the Memphis Grizzlies’ 108-103 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. Denver basketball fans will now enjoy playoff basketball for a seventh consecutive year, and all that’s left to decide is where the team will land in the final playoff seeding, notes The Denver Post. They haven’t helped themselves too much on their current road trip, losing three of four games, including an ugly one yesterday in Orlando.

It was a winnable game, despite the Magic being one of the best teams in the league, but the Nuggets seemed to lack the desire to pass the ball and finished with just 18 assists (via The loss makes tonight’s game in Dallas against the Mavericks the most important game of the season, since yesterday’s loss allowed the Mavs to edge past the Nuggets for the second spot in the Western Conference standings.

The Denver Post reports that tonight’s game will give either the Nuggets or the Mavericks a tie-breaker, which will come into play if both teams finish the season with the same record: The second seed in the playoffs ensures home-court advantage until the conference finals. The Nuggets don’t absolutely need the second seed, writes Denver Stiffs, but they do need to find a way to get on track, with just a handful of games remaining in the season.

No team wants to slide backward into the playoffs, and if coach Adrian Dantley can’t find the Nuggets’ groove before coach George Karl returns from throat cancer treatments, the Nuggets could squander what has been a pretty good season so far.

Sports Illustrated thinks that although the team is reeling, point guard and hometown hero Chauncey Billups will lead them out of this morass. The 13-year pro has been averaging a career-high 19.8 points per game, an unusual feat for pros in his stage of their careers. Besides, as SI points out, the team can’t afford to wait for Karl’s return or for defensive star Kenyon Martin’s knee injury to heal. It’s that simple.