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The Denver Nuggets were supposed to spend Sunday afternoon putting the finishing touches on another top finish in the Western Conference.

Instead, they're lamenting an inexplicable loss that sent them to third place and possibly cost them the No. 1 seed.

Denver (56-25) blew a 23-point lead at San Antonio on Friday night and lost 121-120, dropping it into a tie with the Minnesota Timberwolves and Oklahoma City Thunder atop the Western Conference.

The Nuggets controlled their fate until the collapse against the Spurs, so now Sunday's game at the Memphis Grizzlies could mean several things for the reigning champions.

They hold no tiebreakers over their Northwest Division rivals so they need help. A win over Memphis (27-54) and a loss by the Timberwolves and Thunder earn Denver the top seed again but that would mean Minnesota and Oklahoma City would need to lose their respective home games.

"We controlled our own destiny and what we accomplished on Wednesday night, we just gave it right back," Nuggets coach Michael Malone said, referring to the home win over the Timberwolves on Wednesday. "So, it's easy to get up for Minnesota. I mean, our guys were locked in, they were focused, they were serious.

"And I don't think we had the same approach for (Friday's) game, but you had a chance to get to the one seed and now, obviously, we'll likely be the three seed at the end of the day."

Malone has to decide whether he should play his starters or rest them Sunday afternoon. With at least six days off between the end of the regular season and the start of the first round, fatigue won't be a factor.

Jamal Murray has played well in his four games since missing seven in a row with right knee inflammation, but Malone might opt to give him the day off.

Memphis is finishing a tough season in which it dropped from the No. 2 seed in last year's playoffs to out of the postseason this year. Injuries have derailed the Grizzlies, who have lost four in a row (three of those at home).

Star guard Ja Morant was suspended for the first 25 games this season, returned for nine and then was ruled out for the rest of the season after undergoing surgery on his right shoulder.

His absence has hurt the young team but it has given others an opportunity to show what they can do at this level.

Scotty Pippen Jr. did that Friday night when he scored a career-high 28 points in a loss to the Los Angeles Lakers.

"The emphasis going into the game was to play hard," Pippen said. "We knew they were playing for something, and they probably thought we were playing for nothing. But a lot of guys here are playing for opportunities. That's our motivation."

The Grizzlies gave a motivated Lakers team all it could handle, and that could be the case Sunday. Denver has won the first three games between the teams this season, including a four-point victory Oct. 27 in Memphis.

-Field Level Media

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