Fresh off of their season sweep of the Golden State Warriors, the Denver Nuggets (52-26) are on the road tonight against the Houston Rockets (19-27) to start a three-game road trip that ends on Saturday night in Utah. The Nuggets currently hold a three-game lead in the Western Conference, and they’ve gotten some help while missing Nikola Jokic in their recent stretch of games with the Memphis Grizzlies dropping games when Denver has also lost.

The Nuggets’ magic number, with four games remaining, is down to one. With just one win or one Memphis loss, they would lock up the top spot in the Western Conference to secure home-court advantage throughout the conference portion of the playoffs. They’re only 6-4 in their last 10 games, but two of those three losses were on the road, including a seven-point loss on the road to the Phoenix Suns without Jokic and Jamal Murray.

For the Rockets, they’re in the spot they’re hoping to be at this point of the year. They’ve secured one of the top three spots in the lottery odds, and they’re playing with house money while they look towards the future to see what pieces need to be developed and which they can move on from. Now, they’re just trying to play spoiler at this stage of the year.

The Essentials

Who: Denver Nuggets (52-26, 19-19 away) @ Houston Rockets (19-60, 13-27 home)

When: 6:00 p.m. MST

Where: Footprint Center

How to watch/listen: Denver Stiffs does not condone piracy..unless it’s the romanticized 18th-century type. AltitudeTV where available. League Pass for non-Denver market viewers. Show up in Houston. 92.5 FM KKSE Altitude Sports Radio

Rival Blog: The Dream Shake

Expected Starting Lineups:

HOU: PG Kevin Porter Jr., SG Jalen Green, SF Kenyon Martin, PF Jabari Smith Jr., C Alperen Sengun

DEN: PG Jamal Murray, SG Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, SF Michael Porter Jr., PF Aaron Gordon, C Nikola Jokic

Injuries: Collin Gillespie (leg) OUT, Jamal Murray (thumb) PROBABLE, Zeke Nnaji (knee) QUESTIONABLE, Nikola Jokic (calf) QUESTIONABLE, Jae’Sean Tate (knee) OUT

Three Things to Watch

Take Care of Business Early

With teams that are in the situation that the Rockets are in, they’re playing fast, loose and carefree. Knocking off the team that has one of the top three records in basketball late in the year is the kind of momentum builder that teams want to carry into the offseason. If Denver lets them hang around throughout the game, that’s when they can get into trouble. On the year, the Nuggets are 32-10 when they score 30 or more points in the first quarter, and that includes all three games against the Rockets.

How is Jokic?

Jokic has missed each of the last three games with a calf issue, and it remains unclear as of this morning what his status is for tonight’s game. Soft-tissue injuries have a tendency to linger and get worse when a player returns too early back to competition. With the playoffs around the corner, Denver won’t be trying to rush him back. If he does play tonight, how does he look?

3-Point Shooting

Prior to the All-Star Break, the Nuggets were first in the NBA in 3-point shooting percentage at just under 40 percent from downtown. Since the break, they’ve been in a slump. They’re shooting 35.4 percent during that stretch, which has them 21st in the NBA. In three games against the Rockets, they’ve shot 40 percent or better in every matchup, including a 53.1 percent showing in November. This is the type of matchup your squad of shooters has been waiting for. Now, it’s time to get back to your roots.