Admit it: When you heard the Nuggets were getting rid of defensive stalwart Marcus Camby prior to the start of the season in exchange for virtually nothing, and when the team swapped Allen Iverson for Chauncey Billups a few games into the 2008-2009 campaign, you figured Denver's ballers were in for a shitty year. Well, we were almost right. On the last day of the season, the Nugs have a real shot at being number two -- but not in the fecal sense of the term. If Billups and company beat Portland on the road tonight, or if the Houston Rockets fall to the Dallas Mavericks, the team will be the second seed in the NBA's Western Conference -- an achievement even more significant than its Northwest division championship, which it wrapped up on Tuesday with a win against Sacramento, when it tied a franchise record with its 54th victory of the season.
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Whatever happens tonight, the squad seems likelier to get out of the first round of the playoffs than at any point in well over a decade. The Nugs don't strike me as legitimate championship contenders, as witnessed by the ease with which the truly stacked Los Angeles Lakers handled them on April 9; Kobe Bryant and company won by fourteen points in a game that was never really in doubt. But watching the Nuggets advance would be enormously satisfying anyhow, especially considering this year's low expectations. And thanks to Denver's home-court advantage, Dallas and New Orleans, their likely opponents, are eminently beatable whether or not local fans get the chance to feel excited instead of humiliated while chanting, "We're number two!"