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LOS ANGELES: Nikola Jokic scored 41 points as the Denver Nuggets reclaimed pole position in the Western Conference playoff race with a 116-107 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves in their top-of-the-table clash on Wednesday.

In a hard-fought showdown in Denver that saw the lead change hands 15 times, the Nuggets finally pulled clear in the fourth quarter to seal victory.

The result means Denver, the reigning NBA champions, lead the Western Conference by one game with two regular-season fixtures remaining.

With their final opponents lowly ranked Memphis and San Antonio, Denver (56-24) are now heavy favorites to finish top of the West and seal the No.1 seeding and home advantage through the playoffs.

“We found a way to win, our defense in the fourth quarter was amazing,” Jokic told ESPN, before downplaying the significance of Denver’s return to the top.

“It’s important to be honest, but the West is really, really, really tough. We could play the Los Angeles Lakers or Golden State in the first round — they’re all good teams.”

Jokic, who also had 11 rebounds, seven assists and three steals, was backed by 20 points from Jamal Murray while Michael Porter Jr. added 18.

Anthony Edwards led Minnesota’s scoring with 25 points while Mike Conley added 19. Rudy Gobert and Naz Reid finished with 13 points apiece.

Minnesota’s defeat dropped them into third place in the West behind Oklahoma City Thunder. Although the Timberwolves and OKC have identical records of 55-25 with two games remaining, the Thunder hold the tiebreaker by virtue of the better divisional record.

Oklahoma City moved into second place on Wednesday after swatting aside the San Antonio Spurs 127-89, with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scoring 26 points in a 38-point beatdown of the bottom-ranked Spurs (20-60).

The Phoenix Suns bounced back from their 105-92 home defeat to the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday with a comprehensive 124-108 win on the road in the return fixture.

Devin Booker’s 37-point effort drove Phoenix to victory with Kevin Durant adding 24 and Bradley Beal 26.

The win leaves Phoenix with a fighting chance of reaching the automatic playoff places with two games remaining.

The seventh-placed Suns are on 47-33, just behind New Orleans, who occupy the last automatic postseason spot in the West in sixth with a 47-32 record.

Despite the win Booker believes Phoenix still have plenty of room for improvement with the postseason looming.

“I don’t know if it was a great response,” Booker said. “I think we still started the game a little slow. It’s been our problem all season.”

Phoenix’s victory means both Golden State and the Los Angeles Lakers must go through the play-in repechage to earn a place in the playoffs.

The Dallas Mavericks reeled off their fifth straight win with a 111-92 defeat of the Miami Heat. Luka Doncic scored 29 points for Dallas in a result which ensured the New York Knicks clinched a playoff place in the East.

Elsewhere in the Eastern Conference, the Milwaukee Bucks shrugged off the disappointment of losing Giannis Antetokounmpo to injury on Tuesday to defeat the Orlando Magic 117-99.

Bobby Portis weighed in with a 30-point performance while Damian Lillard added 29 for the Bucks, who are closing in on the No.2 seed in the East with two games of the regular season remaining.

The win left Bucks coach Doc Rivers singing the praises of Portis and guard Patrick Beverley, who finished with 13 points, eight rebounds and six assists.

“They’re both nuts, in a very good way,” Rivers said of Portis and Beverley. “I like guys like them who can be that way but still be under control. They give the team energy — they’re natural instigators.

“It’s not fake, it’s what they do. But they’re not trying to do it — they just do it. Having guys like that on your team is invaluable.”

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