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Nuggets regain control of playoff destiny, Clippers eliminated

Will Barton of the Denver Nuggets reacts to a play in their game against the LA Clippers on Saturday at Staples Center in Los Angeles. AFP
Will Barton of the Denver Nuggets reacts to a play in their game against the LA Clippers on Saturday at Staples Center in Los Angeles. AFP

Nuggets regain control of playoff destiny, Clippers eliminated

Will Barton scored 31 points as the Denver Nuggets kept their playoffs hopes alive with a 134-115 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday.

Nikola Jokic finished with 23 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists as the Nuggets won their fifth straight to move into a tie with the Minnesota Timberwolves for eighth place in the Western Conference with two games to play. Both teams are 45-35.

“At this time of the year, it’s all about finding a way to get wins,” Nuggets coach Mike Malone said.

“We’re playing ‘get it done’ basketball. We’re getting it done. Going into tonight, we’d been playing good defence. We controlled the game, won all four quarters, another big step in the right direction.”

With the offence leading the way some nights and the defence on others, the Nuggets have regained control of their playoff destiny.

They will reach the postseason if they win their last two NBA games. The Nuggets finish the regular season at home against Portland on Monday night.

On Saturday, Denver started quickly on the attack, making 10 of their first 12 shots.

“I think overall – offensively, defensively, controlling our turnovers – I think we’re playing overall our best basketball,” Paul Millsap said.

“Not our best offence we’ve played all year, not necessarily our best defence, but to be a good team you have to have balance.”

The stage is now set for the Nuggets’ season-ending game against the Timberwolves in Minneapolis on Wednesday. Minnesota, which holds the tie-breaker over the Nuggets, hosts Memphis on Monday.

“Our guys have really taken that to heart,” Malone said. “There’s a belief in that locker room, a lot of positivity. I think we’re all in, 100 per cent, believing in each other.”

The loss eliminated the struggling Clippers from the postseason race as they lost for the fourth time in the past five games.

The loss ends a string of six straight post-season appearances for the Clippers.

“I don’t think I have been more proud of a group, maybe ever, than I have been of this group,” said Clippers coach Doc Rivers.

Win streak snapped

Elsewhere, Russell Westbrook and Paul George combined for 48 points as the Oklahoma City Thunder pulled away in the fourth quarter to beat the Houston Rockets 108-102.

Oklahoma City was behind by one point with seven minutes to go before going on an 11-0 burst.

The host Rockets scored five straight points with less than a minute left to get within five, but George made two free throws to clinch the win and snap Houston’s 20-game home win streak.

The Thunder are battling with a number of teams for the final playoff berths in the Western Conference.

Carmelo Anthony tallied 22 points for the Thunder, including some clutch three pointers.

James Harden had 26 and Chris Paul chipped in 17 points for the Rockets in the loss.

In Oakland, Anthony Davis carried the load down the stretch en route to 34 points as the New Orleans Pelicans snapped a 10-game losing streak to Golden State with a 126-120 win over the Warriors.

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