Game: New Orleans Pelicans @ Denver Nuggets
Time: 10:00 p.m.
Odds: Pelicans +9, Nuggets -9
The NBA playoff picture is slowly becoming clearer as the league enters the final stretch of its regular season. The Western Conference has 12 teams that could still play after the regular season ends on April 9, and the standings are still up in the air.
The New Orleans Pelicans are experiencing a lot of change right now. A few losses could push New Orleans into the draft lottery as it entered Wednesday in eighth place, which would earn it a spot in the play-in tournament. On the other hand, a winning streak might enable the Pelicans to skip the play-in round and advance directly to the first round of the playoffs. That means every game, including the one against the Denver Nuggets tonight, has meaning for the Pelicans.
Denver (51-24) is in first place in the Western Conference and is on pace to earn the conference’s top seed for the first time in team history. In a victory over Philadelphia on Monday, Nikola Jokic recorded his 29th triple-double of the year. He is now almost averaging a triple-double for the season (24.9 points, 11.9 rebounds, 9.9 assists per game).
Memphis would need to reach 55 wins to clinch the Western Conference, as Denver currently leads Memphis by three games in the standings. Despite holding on, the Nuggets came close to blowing a lead to the 76ers’ bench. With 3:25 remaining, Denver had a 14-point lead, but it had to bring back its starting lineup to finish the game.
The 38-38 New Orleans team just suffered a difficult loss at Golden State on Tuesday night. The Pelicans had a 20-point lead at one point but ultimately lost by 11 points, missing the chance to tie Minnesota for the sixth seed.
Despite the loss of star forward Zion Williamson earlier in the season, New Orleans still has a chance to make the playoffs. Williamson has missed the last 39 games due to a hamstring injury. His status will be assessed on April 5.
During the Pelicans’ five-game winning streak, Jonas Valanciunas averaged 17.4 points and 16.0 rebounds. He will be tasked with guarding Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets.
Denver won’t have an easy time getting to 55 victories. The team plays two home games against teams vying for a playoff spot – the Warriors and the unexpected Sacramento Kings. Then, the Nuggets play four of their final six games on the road.
Beating the Pelicans for the third time and taking the season series is the first step. On January 24, Jokic made a field goal with 16.9 seconds remaining to give the Nuggets a 99-98 victory in New Orleans after the defense forced three turnovers in the game’s final 5.6 seconds.
New Orleans is 5-1 SU and ATS in its last six games. The Pelicans are just 2-7 SU in the last nine games against Denver. The Nuggets are 5-1 SU and 4-2 ATS in their last six games and they excel at home. Denver is 17-3 SU in their last 20 at home and they are 32-6 at Ball Arena this season.
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