The Denver Nuggets have never finished an NBA season with the best record in their conference, but after Friday’s season-defining, 113–97 home victory over the visiting Memphis Grizzlies – who thumped the Nuggets by 18 less than a week ago –  Denver’s well on their way to earning home-court advantage through the Western Conference playoffs.

The game was uncomfortably tight for the Nuggets most of the way through; they trailed by eight points at halftime before finishing the third quarter tied at 80 apiece. Mile High magic seemed to kick in for the Nuggets, who moved to a league-best 29-4 at home after obliterating the Grizzlies in the final frame, 33-17, for a final tally of 113-97 that may not have represented the talent gap between the two teams, but did illustrate why winning this game – and the season series – was so important to Denver. With the win, the Nuggets took a six-game lead in the conference standings race over Memphis, and ensured that even if the Grizzlies were to match the Nuggets’ record, they’d still trail MVP favorite Nikola Jokic and Co. in the West’s pecking order.

Even though Jokic notched his league-leading 25th triple-double on Friday, it was the two-time MVP’s teammates that ended up leading the Nuggets to victory, even if Denver’s record moved to a definitive 25-0 when Jokic logs a triple-double.

Michael Porter Jr. continued his breakout season with 26 points and Jamal Murray scored 11 of his 22 points in the decisive fourth quarter, providing secondary scoring for the Nuggets that the Grizzlies couldn’t seem to match. “We did a lot of great things for three quarters, and then just kind of fell apart,” Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins said. To a certain extent, that was the truth; Memphis couldn’t match Denver’s energy – or precision shooting – as the game came to a close. “Since the All-Star break, it feels like every night’s a playoff-type game,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “…our guys showed up.”

It was, in many ways, the Nuggets’ much-maligned defense – actually, one of the league’s very best over the last two months – that got the job done; holding the Grizzlies to an uninspiring 7-for-20 shooting in the fourth quarter. “It was a really good defensive game from both teams,” Murray said after the game. “I think our defense ignited our offense later in the game.”

This was the kind of high-stakes game that the Nuggets will have to quickly get accustomed to if they’re to claim their first Western Conference title and their first-ever berth in the NBA Finals, something that seems to be a more realistic possibility with ever win that the Nuggets log over their rivals.

The Nuggets did get a scare when talented backup center Thomas Bryant suffered a lower-leg injury during Friday’s game and did not return. Fortunately, after the game, Malone indicated that, if it were a playoff game, that Bryant would have been able to return – yet another sign this season that Malone’s warming up to the idea of prioritizing health over regular-season wins, and a sign that he may have evolved into a championship-caliber coach. “I told our guys at halftime that we were only down [eight points, even though] we had made 2-of-14 on [three-pointers] and had some really good shots,” Malone explained. “I said, ‘Fellas, we’re right in this game… That fourth quarter was, by far, one of our best fourth quarters of the season, against a really good basketball team.”

The Nuggets will remain in Denver over the weekend, hosting the Toronto Raptors on Monday night as they pursue what many in Colorado assumed was an impossible dream. But only a few years ago, the Nuggets’ faithful could never have imagined that their former second-round pick out of Serbia was going to potentially win a trifecta of MVP awards. For the first time as an NBA franchise, the Nuggets’ title chances are real – and after Friday’s win, more in focus than they’re even been.