for this game

Nuggets eye fifth straight victory, face Jazz

Apr 1, 2009 - 10:04 PM By Matt Becker Stats Senior Writer

Utah (46-28) at Denver (49-26), 10:30 p.m. EDT

DENVER (AP) -- In the highly competitive Western Conference, the Denver Nuggets became the fourth team to clinch a playoff spot. They don't really have time to celebrate, though, as the second and seventh seeds are separated by just 2 1/2 games.

The Northwest Division-leading Nuggets look to win their fifth in a row and move closer to securing home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs Thursday night when they host the Utah Jazz, one of the teams chasing them in the playoff race.

After being written off early, Denver (49-26) continued its impressive turnaround with Tuesday's 111-104 win over New York to clinch a playoff berth for the sixth straight season.

"We're excited about clinching," said Carmelo Anthony, who is averaging 32.2 points in his last five games. "At least we know we are in the playoffs, that's a good sign. We still have games to go and win. Two losses back-to-back will put you in the eighth spot. That's tough, that's tough right now. I'm happy with the way we're playing, I'm happy we clinched, I'm happy we're in the playoffs. But we still want that home court."

In each of the past five seasons, the Nuggets went on the road to start the playoffs and were eliminated in the first round each time.

Denver, which was fifth in the West just last week, moved into the No. 2 spot with San Antonio's loss to Oklahoma City on Tuesday. The Nuggets also lead Portland by 1 1/2 games in the division, while third-place Utah (46-28) is 2 1/2 back.

"It means a lot," Chauncey Billups said. "I never take that for granted. No matter how successful you've been in the playoffs or how much success you've had, you never take that for granted. Because I can still remember the days when I was just dreaming about being in the playoffs.

"But we've got bigger goals than just making the playoffs."

The Nuggets are heading into the postseason in the right direction, winning four in a row and nine of 10 after losing their previous three. Denver must win five of its final seven to match the franchise record for victories set in 1987-88.

The Nuggets still have four games at home, where they've won a season-high six straight and 13 of 15. Denver is just 1-2 against the Jazz this season, but defeated them 117-97 at the Pepsi Center on Jan. 25.

Utah has lost five of six on the road - its only victory in that span coming against the lowly Thunder on March 20.

Struggling away from Salt Lake City, it's going to be tough for the Jazz to make a move in the standings, considering they also have road games against New Orleans, Dallas, San Antonio and the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Jazz are coming off Tuesday's disappointing 125-104 loss at Portland, allowing the Trail Blazers to shoot 61.8 percent from the floor. It was Utah's worst field goal defense since Houston shot 62.7 percent on Feb. 2, 1995.

"We're going to get our mind right for Denver, and play a lot better," said Carlos Boozer, who was ejected after receiving consecutive technical fouls in the third quarter. "I believe in my teammates, I believe in our coaching staff, I believe we have the strength and the will to come back from this and bounce back."

The Jazz could have trouble slowing down the Nuggets, who are averaging 111.0 points on 52.3 percent shooting during their winning streak.