Nuggets 109, Trail Blazers 92
The Denver Nuggets are trying to put the brakes on a late-season slide that could cost them in the race for playoff position.
The Nuggets took an important step Thursday night, beating the Portland Trail Blazers 109-92 behind a strong fourth-quarter effort from Carmelo Anthony, who scored 13 of his 25 points in the final period.
``This game was as big as it gets for us this year,'' said Denver's Chauncey Billups, who scored 21 points. ``We all knew that. It wasn't do or die, but it was a big win for us.''
Nene added 22 points for the Nuggets, who won for only the second time in seven games. Denver dropped from second to fifth in the Western Conference playoff race during the slump and fell to second place in the Northwest Division. They pulled within a game of first-place Utah with six games remaining, including four at home.
``It's going to be like musical chairs the whole rest of the way,'' Billups said. ``We've just got to worry about the next game and nothing else. We'll play them like a playoff game and see where we end up.''
Acting head coach Adrian Dantley said the Nuggets broke out of their slump by restoring ball movement on the offensive end.
``We know when we share the ball, we get results,'' Dantley said. ``I told the guys before the game, `Our record is 40-7 when we get 20 assists or more,' and we got 24 tonight.''
Andre Miller scored 24 points to lead Portland, which had won its previous four games, including a victory over New York on Wednesday that clinched a playoff spot for the Trail Blazers.
``I don't know if it was a letdown. It might have been,'' Brandon Roy said of the Trail Blazers, who came in an NBA-best 14-3 in the second game of back to backs, including 12-2 on the road. ``We didn't have that sense of urgency. You could tell our energy was a little zapped. We were trying to make pushes and we couldn't get a number of guys to play well at one time. When they made runs it seemed like we were on our heels. Some of it was letdown and some was we didn't have that same energy we had in the past.''
Martell Webster added 17 points and LaMarcus Aldridge had 16 for the Blazers, who lost for the 13th time in their last 14 games in Denver. Portland's only win in that span came on Dec. 16, 2007.
Roy's 3-pointer with 3:31 left in the third quarter pulled the Trail Blazers, who trailed by one at the break, to 74-72. But the Nuggets scored 13 of the next 17 points, capped by Billups' 3-pointer, to take an 87-76 lead into the fourth.
Anthony opened the fourth with successive baskets, the second followed by a free throw to complete a three-point play, and the Nuggets built a 92-78 cushion with 9:23 remaining, their biggest lead to that point. The Trail Blazers pulled to 94-86 on a pair of free throws by Roy with 6:32 left before the Nuggets pulled away again.
Leading 27-24 after the first quarter, Denver opened a 44-35 lead midway through the second with a 17-5 flurry fueled by a series of highlight reel baskets by J.R. Smith. The Nuggets' sixth man had eight of his 15 points in the run, including a rim-shaking dunk off Anthony Carter's alley-oop pass and a three-point play that began when he muscled in a driving reverse layup with Jerryd Bayless draped around him.
The spectacular shots had the crowd roaring but Portland was unfazed, outscoring the Nuggets 16-8 in the last 3:37 of the quarter and pulling to 56-55 when Marcus Camby hit at 11-foot jumper as the halftime buzzer sounded.
Nuggets forward Chris Andersen injured his left ankle when he landed awkwardly trying to block a lay-up by Miller with 7:22 remaining in the game. Andersen limped off the court and did not return, but X-rays were negative.
NOTES: Denver improved to 15-2 at home when playing against a team that is in town finishing a back-to-back set. ... The Trail Blazers had entered with wins in nine of their previous 12 road games. ... Denver is 21-7 overall against Portland since the 2003-04 season. ... Webster fouled out in the waning minutes of the game. ... Anthony had nine turnovers.