(Sports Network) - The hottest team in the NBA, the two-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers, will entertain a Denver Nuggets team on the verge of clinching a postseason berth.
The Pacific Division champion Lakers sport an impressive 17-1 mark since the All-Star break and have pulled within 1 1/2 games of the West-leading San Antonio Spurs for conference bragging rights. The Spurs are mired in a season- worst six-game slide.
Los Angeles made it nine wins in a row with Friday night's 96-85 win over Utah in Salt Lake City. Kobe Bryant, the Western Conference Player of the Month for March, scored 21 points in that one as the Lakers rallied from a 17-point second quarter deficit.
Pau Gasol had 16 points and nine rebounds, while Lamar Odom and Derek Fisher netted 16 and 15 points, respectively, in the win.
"We started off slow," Odom said. "We did all the small things in the second half to come back and cut into that [deficit].
Forward Matt Barnes was suspended for Friday's game after an altercation with Dallas' Jason Terry a day earlier but is expected to be back in the lineup on Sunday.
The Nuggets, meanwhile, are also hot and on the brink of clinching a playoff spot after Raymond Felton scored 17 points on Friday in a 99-90 win over the Sacramento Kings.
Nene chipped in 12 points, 12 rebounds and six assists for the Nuggets, who have a magic number of one to secure a postseason berth. Denver, which is currently fifth in the Western Conference, 2 1/2 games up on Portland, will clinch Sunday with either a win over the Lakers or a Houston loss against Atlanta.
Kenyon Martin scored 14 against the Kings in Denver's fifth consecutive victory.
"We got a game that got kind of ugly and sloppy. I thought we were defending well," Nuggets coach George Karl said. "They were contesting our penetration. I think Raymond took on the responsibility of making plays and made the game easy."
The Nuggets, who are a gaudy 14-4 since trading Carmelo Anthony to New York, are also still alive for a Northwest Division title, but are 3 1/2 games behind Oklahoma City with seven to play.
The Lakers have lost four of six overall to the Nuggets but have taken 13 of 15 in the series at Staples Center.