The Denver Nuggets spent 81 games battling for a playoff spot in one of the most competitive races in NBA history. After finally ending the commotion by clinching a postseason berth with one regular-season game left, they're suddenly involved in a completely different kind of turmoil.
Carmelo Anthony and the Nuggets take the court for the first time since the All-Star forward was arrested for driving under the influence as they close the season by hosting the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday night.
Denver (49-32) secured the eighth and final playoff spot in the loaded Western Conference when Golden State -- the only other team alive in the race -- was eliminated by losing to Phoenix on Monday night. The previous night, Nuggets coach George Karl admitted his team had been feeling stressed for three weeks.
That's not likely to change because of the controversy now surrounding Anthony, the league's fourth-leading scorer with 25.8 points per game. The two-time All-Star was arrested early Monday morning on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol, hours after he was held to a season low-tying 11 points in Denver's 111-94 win over Houston.
Detective Sharon Hahn said Anthony failed a series of sobriety tests. He was charged with DUI, then taken to police headquarters before being released to a "sober responsible party," Hahn said. Officers denied accusations that Anthony got preferential treatment.
The fifth-year forward apologized for the incident in a two-minute press conference Tuesday at the Pepsi Center.
"I'm here to man up to my mistake, just to let you know that I'm truly sorry for what happened and everything that's going on," he said. "What happened Monday morning was truly and totally unacceptable."
"It's kind of bad timing right now, due to the playoffs, due to our team's success. Once again, I just want to apologize."
Though it's unclear how the case will develop, Anthony isn't expected to miss any playing time for the time being. His first court appearance is scheduled for May 14 -- during the second round of the playoffs.
The Nuggets hope to overcome the distraction as they tune up for their fifth straight playoff appearance. They've been eliminated in five games in the first round each of the last four seasons -- all with Anthony.
Though it has already secured a spot in the playoffs, Denver still has something to play for in its finale. The Nuggets can take over the seventh seed from Dallas if they beat the Grizzlies (22-59) and the Mavericks lose at home to New Orleans. A victory would also give Denver its first 50-win season since it won a franchise-record 54 games in 1987-88.
The Grizzlies, meanwhile, are trying to avoid their second consecutive 60-loss season. A win in this game would give them one more than they had in 2006-07, when they finished with the worst record in the league.
"This has been a frustrating season, a long season," Grizzlies forward Brian Cardinal said after the team's 113-91 loss to Portland on Tuesday night. "We need a win, period."
The Nuggets have won their first three games against the Grizzlies, and are hoping to sweep the season series for the second time in four years.
Anthony has been limited to 37 total points in two games against Memphis, while Denver guard Allen Iverson -- third in the league with 26.5 points per game -- has been held to 22.0 points and 35.6 percent shooting from the field in the series.