NBA playoff picture: Nuggets in sole possession of West No. 3, Bulls make up ground on Nets

Bruce Bennett

The Denver Nuggets picked up a win on Thursday and solidified their status as the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference, but they paid a heavy price to do so.

Only six teams played on Thursday night in the NBA, but the results of those three games still managed to shake up the playoff picture in each conference. The Denver Nuggets picked up an important win over the Dallas Mavericks, courtesy of a game-winning drive and layup by Andre Iguodala. The win moved Denver two games ahead of the Clippers for the No. 3 seed, and Denver is guaranteed a top-four finish.

However, the team's path to the NBA Finals just got harder. Danilo Gallinari suffered a left knee injury in the game and team doctors fear it is a torn ACL. Nuggets blog Denver Stiffs has more information on the tiebreakers out West.

The Oklahoma City Thunder made the biggest move of the night, as they dismantled the San Antonio Spurs and positioned themselves for a legitimate run at the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. OKC dominated the Spurs for the better part of four quarters and moved within a half-game of San Antonio for the top spot in the West.

Even better for the Thunder, they improved their advantage in the secondary tiebreaker race by notching another conference win. If they tie the Spurs' record at the end of the year, they will be the top seed. An extra home game in the playoffs could turn out to be a huge advantage, considering the Thunder are 33-5 at home this year and other rivals like the Spurs and Nuggets are similarly dominant on their home floor.

The Bulls helped their cause in two ways: (1) they picked up a win to move them back into the No. 5 seed in the East, thanks to a tiebreaker advantage over the Atlanta Hawks, and (2) they beat the No. 4 seed Brooklyn Nets to do it, which pulled the Nets within reach (1.5 games up) in the standings. The Bulls and Hawks now have an opportunity to chase the Nets for home-court advantage in the opening round of the playoffs. That race should be interesting to watch down the stretch.

Western Standings

San Antonio Spurs 76 56-20 .737
Oklahoma City Thunder 75 55-20 .733
Denver Nuggets 76 52-24 .684
Los Angeles Clippers 76 50-26 .658
Memphis Grizzlies 75 51-24 .680
Golden State Warriors 75 43-32 .573
Houston Rockets 75 42-33 .560
Los Angeles Lakers 75 39-36 .520
Utah Jazz 76 39-37 .513
Dallas Mavericks 75 36-39 .480
Portland Trail Blazers 75 33-42 .440
Minnesota Timberwolves 74 28-46 .378
Sacramento Kings 75 27-48 .360
New Orleans Hornets 75 26-49 .347
Phoenix Suns 75 23-52 .307

Eastern Standings

Miami Heat 74 58-16 .784
New York Knicks 74 48-26 .649
Indiana Pacers 75 48-27 .640
Brooklyn Nets 75 43-32 .573
Chicago Bulls 74 41-33 .554
Atlanta Hawks 76 42-34 .553
Boston Celtics 75 39-36 .520
Milwaukee Bucks 74 36-38 .486
Philadelphia 76ers 74 30-44 .405
Toronto Raptors 75 28-47 .373
Washington Wizards 75 28-47 .373
Detroit Pistons 76 25-51 .329
Cleveland Cavaliers 74 22-52 .297
Orlando Magic 76 19-57 .250
Charlotte Bobcats 75 18-57 .240

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