With less than a week left in the NBA's regular season, they don't come any bigger than Saturday's matchup between the Denver Nuggets and Phoenix Suns.
The Nuggets are 1 1/2 games ahead of both the Suns and Utah, who are deadlocked for the Western Conference's eighth and final postseason spot. Since Denver already owns the season series tiebreaker with Phoenix, having won the first two meetings between the clubs, a Nuggets win in this encounter would clinch a postseason berth.
Meanwhile, the Suns, who are ahead of the Jazz by virtue of the tiebreaker with a huge showdown scheduled with Utah in Salt Lake City next Tuesday, need the victory to inch closer to the final West playoff berth. The Jazz host a Dwight Howard-less Orlando club on Saturday.
"If we get out there and take care of business, we'll be cemented into the playoffs," Denver guard Arron Afflalo told the Nuggets' official website, "and anything can happen from there."
Phoenix kept hope alive on Thursday when Jared Dudley scored a team-high 18 points during a 93-90 win over the Los Angeles Clippers at US Airways Center.
Channing Frye added 16 points, Steve Nash finished with 13 and Marcin Gortat contributed 14 points and 14 rebounds for the Suns.
"It was a good win. I don't like to term these must-win games. Every game you have to go out and play and see what happens," Phoenix head coach Alvin Gentry said.
Nash is also on the cusp of another milestone. The former two-time MVP has 9,887 assists and needs just four more to pass Oscar Robertson for fifth place on the all-time NBA list.
The Nuggets lost to those same Clippers in their last encounter on Wednesday, a 104-98 setback in the Rockies.
Kenyon Martin played villain against his former team in that one as he tipped in the go-ahead basket in the final minute and blocked Ty Lawson on the ensuing possession to lift the Clippers.
Lawson had a team-high 24 points for Denver, which had won four of five coming in. Al Harrington added 14 points while Danilo Gallinari, Kosta Koufos, Afflalo and Andre Miller each contributed 12.
The Suns are trying to avoid missing the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since a three-year span from 1986-88. Denver, on the other hand, hasn't missed the postseason since 2003.
The Nuggets have won five straight overall versus the Suns but Phoenix is an impressive 12-3 at home since the All-Star break.