The Golden State Warriors and Denver Nuggets are similarly built and fighting for their place among the usual NBA playoff contenders, which is why their game Sunday night is all the more important.
Both have appreciated but perhaps undervalued point guards in Stephen Curry and Ty Lawson. Though still-developing youngsters like Klay Thompson, Kenneth Faried and Harrison Barnes play key roles in offenses that put up more than 100 points a night, the Nuggets and Warriors are still fighting for respect in their defenses that are actually quite good, according to Basketball-Reference.com. Both of them rank in the bottom third of the league in the misleading points allowed per game category but in the top third in defensive ratings.
Denver (22-16) hosts Golden State on Sunday night, and the meeting is of great importance in the shuffling of the Western Conference. It could also be a battle that is a part of what defines the near-future of the young NBA hierarchy.
The Warriors (23-12) come off a Friday win against the Portland Trail Blazers, ending a two-game losing skid that included losses to the Clippers and Grizzlies. That, in itself, was a sign that Mark Jackson's team has not yet arrived, but a victory against the Nuggets would say the second-year coach has quickly built his squad into a playoff power.
And about those Nuggets: George Karl has a chance to prove that he finally has his pieces to the puzzle figured out after preseason hype was washed away with streaky play so far. In the midst of Denver's third four-game winning streak of the season, a fifth win in a row -- and a win against a good team -- would go a long way in showing the Nuggets are ready to make a push in the middle of the season.
The Nuggets have the Warriors' number this year. Already having played three games this season, the meeting between the two teams is already chalking up to be a good one.
Denver leads the season series 2-1, having won a 107-101 double-overtime thriller on Nov. 10, 2012, and a 102-91 victory at home two weeks later.
It was almost 3-0 in favor of Denver. On Nov. 29, the Warriors won, 106-105, after a made three-pointer by Denver's Andre Iguodala was waived off after replays showed his shot being released after the buzzer.
Winning Round 4 may not indicate that either team is ready to challenge the Clippers, Spurs or Thunder. But it's going to hold much weight nonetheless.
Time: 8 p.m. ET