Rockets, Nuggets open pivotal home-and-home set

There are plenty of superstars set to play Sunday, but tonight's showdown between the Houston Rockets and Denver Nuggets is arguably the most intriguing for what's at stake.

The two teams will clash tonight in the opener of a home-and-home set at the Pepsi Center with playoff implications on the line in the jumbled Western Conference. Houston and Denver are both tied for the final two postseason berths in the West, just 1 1/2 games behind Dallas and 1 1/2 ahead of Phoenix with seven contests to play. Utah is only two games off the pace.

Houston and Denver have split a pair of meetings this season and six overall, while the Rockets have won the last two matchups in the Rocky Mountains. Both teams will meet again Monday in the Lone Star State. The Rockets look to make it three in a row in Colorado, but have dropped two straight since a four-game winning streak -- all on the road. They are coming off Friday's 112-105 setback versus Phoenix, as Goran Dragic netted 22 points and handed out seven assists to lead Houston, which suffered a loss to Utah on Wednesday.

"The game was decided in the third quarter tonight," Rockets head coach Kevin McHale said. "We rallied again, but it just wasn't enough."

Luis Scola scored 21 points and Marcus Camby had 14 points and 18 rebounds in a losing cause. Houston will try to make it five straight wins away from Space City and is 12-17 as the visitor this season.

Denver will try to extend their home winning streak to five games Sunday and is 18-12 in the Rockies this season.

The Nuggets had won two straight and five of seven games until dropping a 103-97 decision against the Kobe Bryant-less Los Angeles Lakers on Friday at Staples Center. Andre Miller paced Denver with 20 points, while Al Harrington and Arron Afflalo scored 18 apiece for the Nuggets, who got 14 points and 10 rebounds from JaVale McGee.

"We played good defense in the fourth quarter. We had some looks at the end, but we missed a layup that would have given us the lead, and we missed a wide- open three," said Nuggets head coach George Karl. "I'm proud of the way we played tonight."

On the injury front for Karl's team, forward Wilson Chandler is listed as doubtful for tonight because of a strained left groin. He has missed seven straight games and is averaging 10.7 points and 5.9 rebounds.