Nuggets 105, Suns 99
Andre Miller showed his young Denver teammates what it takes to win in April. He hopes the lesson takes the Nuggets deep into the playoffs.
Miller scored 13 of his 15 in the fourth quarter, Arron Afflalo led the way with 30 points and the Nuggets scored the final nine points to beat the Phoenix Suns 105-99 on Friday night.
Al Harrington had 23 points to help the Nuggets take sole possession of seventh place in the Western Conference, a half-game ahead of idle Houston and 1 1/2 in front of Utah. The Suns dropped to 10th place, a half-game behind the Jazz.
''It's big,'' Miller said. ''I don't know if the young guys know about positioning for the playoffs, but you want to position yourselves to get a decent matchup in the first round. At this point we can't even worry about that, it's so tight. We've just got to figure out how to stay in the race.''
Friday's win also gave Denver the tiebreaker against the Suns, as the Nuggets have won the teams' first two meetings - including a 109-92 victory on Feb. 14. They play again April 24 in Phoenix.
Miller wants that game to mean more than clinching a trip to the playoffs. In his 13th season he wants to play meaningful games long after the regular season ends.
''I'd like to be out there in May,'' he said. ''I haven't been out of the first round so we've got to keep pushing and hopefully we can get past that.''
Miller looks at the standings constantly to what more needs to be done to improve Denver's lot so a deep playoff run is realistic. Friday, with the seventh-youngest roster in the league, the 36-year-old guard decided he needed to take control in the fourth quarter.
Down 97-92, he grabbed a defensive rebound and when he got to midcourt threw a pass to Kenneth Faried for an alley-oop dunk that got Denver rolling. Miller then scored on two layups and hit two free throws to give the Nuggets a 100-99 lead.
''The pass he threw to Kenneth from halfcourt might be one of the best passes I've ever seen,'' Nuggets coach George Karl said. ''He has this passion to will games. There are so many plays from the seven-minute mark, Andre's scoring and passing, rebounding, he had a pretty special night. I'd give this one to Andre.''
After Phoenix didn't score, Miller drove the lane and found Afflalo in the corner and Afflalo made his fifth 3-pointer of the game to give Denver a four-point lead with 48 seconds left.
''It was amazing to see a guy like him just step up and put this team on his back,'' Faried said.
Denver outscored the Suns 13-2 to finish the game.
''The score was 97-92 and we come up with two points the rest of the way,'' Suns coach Alvin Gentry said. ''We gave Andre (Miller) two easy drives to the basket. You have to do a better job of execution. That's what you have to do down the stretch.''
Shannon Brown scored 18 points and Steve Nash had 14 points and 11 assists for the Suns, who had their three-game win streak snapped.
Nash didn't play in the previous matchup, and his presence Friday made this game more competitive. He hit a 3-pointer to put the Suns ahead five with 5:08 left, but Denver rallied to win again.
''It was a bad loss for us,'' Nash said. ''We had a bad close to the game and didn't make plays down the stretch.''
The Suns surged in the last month to get in the thick of the playoff hunt. They have won 11 of 17 after a slow start and were trying to tie Denver for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West.
''We have no margin of error,'' Gentry said. ''We have zero margin of error.''
The Nuggets went on a 16-6 run to start the second half and take a 68-58 lead. The Suns rallied to go ahead 75-73 on two free throws by Nash. Harrington scored the last five points of the period to give Denver a 78-75 lead, and his two 3s early in the fourth pushed the lead to 86-79.
Phoenix answered with a 13-1 run to lead 92-87 midway through the fourth.
With Denver trailing 35-29 early in the second quarter, Harrington scored 10 of his 12 first-half points and Afflalo hit a 3 to key an 18-4 run to give the Nuggets an eight-point lead.
The Suns came right back with an 11-1 run to take a 50-48 lead late in the half. Jordan Hamilton's jumper tied the score at 52-all at halftime.
NOTES: The Nuggets tied a franchise low with five turnovers. ... Hamilton became the 16th player to start for the Nuggets this season. ... Nuggets F Wilson Chandler (groin) missed his third straight game. He had an MRI earlier Friday to determine the severity of the injury. ... Suns G Michael Redd scored 13 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter.