LOS ANGELES • There is a single pot of gold at the end of the rainbow as the National Basketball Association (NBA) regular season concludes today - the final play-off berth.
That coveted spot awaits either the Minnesota Timberwolves or the Denver Nuggets, with both Western Conference teams squaring off at Target Centre in Minneapolis in the winner-takes-all finale.
With six wins on the spin, the Nuggets are fighting to show they deserve to be part of the play-off conversation this season after a five-year drought.
And after rallying from an 11-point third-quarter deficit to beat the Portland Trail Blazers 88-82 on Monday night to keep their play-off hopes alive, Nuggets coach Michael Malone hailed his side for playing like their "lives were on the line".
"That was another play-off game. That was just tough, physical for 48 minutes," Malone said.
"I told them at half-time, I was honest, I said, 'Fellas, if we lose, we're out'. I knew some of these other teams had won games.
"And I felt we played like our lives were on the line. It wasn't pretty but I thought our defence was phenomenal."
Nikola Jokic had his second triple-double in as many games, recording 15 points, 20 rebounds and 11 assists for the Nuggets (46-35) who are tied with the Timberwolves for the eighth and final play-off spot in the West.
In San Antonio, Rudy Gay scored 18 points off the bench and Manu Ginobili added 17 as the Spurs stumbled through the first three quarters, but found a way to defeat the visiting Sacramento Kings 98-85 on Monday.
The win, which clinched a 21st consecutive play-off berth, allowed the Spurs to continue the league's longest active post-season streak and tie the Portland Trail Blazers (1983-2003) for the second-longest streak in NBA history.
Ginobili admitted it had been a "very tough season with a lot of injuries and rotations" but the post-season was a sweet reward.
"The goal was to make the play-offs... Everything (in the West) is so clogged... we are happy to have it clinched," he said.
In Miami, Russell Westbrook recorded his NBA-leading 25th triple-double to help Oklahoma City (47-34) clinch a play-off berth as they doused the Heat 115-93.
Westbrook scored 23 points, grabbed a season-high 18 rebounds and dished out 13 assists.
In Los Angeles, Anthony Davis scored 28 points, and the New Orleans Pelicans ensured their post-season spot with a 113-100 victory over hosts Clippers at Staples Centre. The Pelicans (47-34) won their fourth consecutive game to reach the play-offs for the first time in three years.
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