The NBA’s best home team will certainly have an advantage in the playoffs.
In the first round, at least.
Ty Lawson scored 26 points, including a jumper in the lane with 9.3 seconds left, and the Denver Nuggets clinched home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs with a 112-111 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday night.
Wilson Chandler added 21 points for the Nuggets, who are 37-3 at home and have a 22-game winning streak at home. They can secure the No. 3 seed in the West with one more victory or two losses by the Los Angeles Clippers.
“I think it’s huge,” Denver coach George Karl said. “Don’t get me wrong. The teams we’re going to play in the first round are capable of beating us on our home court. I’ve always felt that home court, if it was an even series, it’s tough for teams to win twice on your home court. And our home court, I know teams don’t like to play there. Hopefully mentally they struggle with the thought of playing there.”
Milwaukee lost its season-high fifth game in a row despite Monta Ellis scoring 38 points, one shy of his season high. His six 3-pointers were the most he’s had this season, and he didn’t even attend the morning shootaround because he was sick.
“Now is not the time to throw a pity party,” Ellis said.
Ellis’ four-point play with 14.2 seconds left gave the Bucks a 111-110 lead. Ellis, who had 19 fourth-quarter points, drilled a 3-pointer from the right side and made a free throw after he was fouled by Evan Fournier.
“He’s been a warrior for us all year,” Milwaukee coach Jim Boylan said. “He’s played hurt, sick, he’s done everything. … I can’t say enough about him, he’s had a great season. Without him I don’t know where we would be.”
After a timeout, Lawson got the ball in front of Milwaukee’s bench with Ellis guarding him. Lawson drove to his right and pulled up in the lane to hit the winning shot.
“I just wanted to (isolate),” Lawson said. “I passed to Wilson, got it back, saw a clean side, started pushing real hard and I knew he was trying to bite and make sure I didn’t get to the basket. So I kind of stepped back and had all the time in the world to knock down a shot.”
J.J. Redick, who contributed 20 points for the Bucks, missed a 3-pointer from the center of the arc as time expired.
Milwaukee, which already had clinched the No. 8 spot in the East, finished with a 21-20 record at home.
“We were one defensive stop short,” Ellis said. “J.J. had a great look at it.”
Forward Kenneth Faried did not play because of the left ankle he sprained in Denver’s victory over Portland on Sunday.
That didn’t stop the Nuggets (56-25), who added to their franchise record for victories in a season by winning for the 22nd time in their last 25 games.
JaVale McGee came off the bench and finished with a season-high 17 rebounds and 10 points for Denver, which closes the regular season Wednesday when it hosts Phoenix.
Milwaukee is closing the regular season with no momentum at all. The team has just three victories in its last 15 games and will try to halt a nine-game road losing streak Wednesday at Oklahoma City.
“It’d be nice for us to taste a victory,” Boylan said.
John Henson had 14 points and 15 rebounds for the Bucks, who lost their fifth straight game to Denver.
Milwaukee held a one-point lead with about 1 minute left when Ersan Ilyasova grabbed a rebound off a missed shot by Andre Miller, but he lost the ball out of bounds.
Denver capitalized with a basket by Andre Iguodala for a 108-107 lead with 52 seconds remaining.
Mike Dunleavy missed a shot and Miller’s two free throws gave the Nuggets a 110-107 lead with 25.4 seconds left.
Earlier in the quarter, Denver held a 98-92 lead when Ellis scored eight points in a row. He drilled a 3-pointer, a jump shot and then another 3-pointer to give Milwaukee a 100-98 lead with 4:30 to go.
A slam dunk along the baseline by Ekpe Udoh with 9:20 left gave Milwaukee an 87-86 lead, its first since early in the first quarter.
Milwaukee gave up a season-high 46 free-throw attempts; Denver made 32 of them. … Ellis recorded his ninth 30-point game of the season. … The Nuggets finished with a 19-22 mark on the road. … An MRI exam Monday morning showed that Faried sprained a ligament. Faried, who averages 11.5 points and 9.2 rebounds per game, also will miss the final game of the regular season and will be listed as day-to-day for the playoffs. … Center Larry Sanders missed his third game in a row for the Bucks with a sore lower back.