On the final night of the 2017-18 regular season, the Nuggets (46-35) take on the Timberwolves (46-35) for the final spot in the NBA playoffs. How's that for drama?
The Wolves look to end a 13-year playoff drought on Wednesday, while the Nuggets haven't appeared in the postseason since 2014. This specific situation is unique in that the teams are not necessarily battling for the West's No. 8 seed, as either could finish as high as fifth. It begs the question: Has this happened before?
Per the NBA, Wednesday's Nuggets vs Timberwolves game is the third time under the current NBA playoff format (since 1983-84) that the winning team of a game on the final day of the regular season will make the playoffs and the losing team will be eliminated.- InsideHoops.com NBA (@InsideHoops) April 10, 2018
It will be just the third time since 1984 such a game is played on the last day of the NBA season. Strangely enough, it is the second time the Nuggets have been in this situation.
Three games in 34 seasons qualifies this circumstance as a rarity. So what happened in the previous two matchups?
1995 - Kings vs. Nuggets
The Kings (39-42) visited Denver (40-41) for a shot to make the postseason for the first time since 1986. The Nuggets were one year removed from being the first-ever No. 8 team to defeat a No. 1 seed in the first round of the NBA playoffs. The Nuggets earned their second consecutive playoff appearance with a 102-89 victory over the Kings. Dikembe Mutombo filled the stat sheet in the win, finishing with 13 points, 19 rebounds, five assists and four blocks.
As far as first-round upsets go, history did not repeat itself for the No. 8 Nuggets in 1995. David Robinson and the Spurs swept Denver in the first round, winning all three games by an average margin of 15.3 points.
1997 - Bullets vs. Cavaliers
Cleveland (42-39) hosted Washington (43-38) for the opportunity to take on Michael Jordan and the Bulls in the first round of the 1997 playoffs. Behind Chris Webber's double-double (23 points, 17 rebounds), the Bullets defeated Cleveland by a final score of 85-81. Washington finished the season with a record of 44-38 and ended its nine-year postseason drought, but they didn't stick around all that long. Jordan, Pippen and the rest of the crew swept the Bullets en route to the 1997 NBA championship.
As for Denver and Minnesota, Wednesday night's matchup is as close as the NBA will get to a wild card play-in game. Both up-and-coming teams feature young talent and are primed to be mainstays in the postseason for years to come - the winner will just be getting ahead of the curve.
And by the early hours of Thursday morning, either the Nuggets or Timberwolves will need to pack their bags for a trip to Houston... or Oakland... or Portland... or Utah. Crazy, right?