DENVER, April 4 (Ticker) --
The Denver Nuggets are quietly becoming
the team nobody wants to play in the Western Conference.
hit a jumper with 11 seconds left as the Nuggets
posted an 88-87 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Lenard, who scored only eight points, dribbled around a
defender and calmly spotted up for the jumper from the right
"I was kind of scrambling around when I got it," Lenard said.
"I just wanted to put up a good shot to give us a chance and
fortunately, I made it."
Lenard's game-winning shot, his second in the last seven games,
gave Denver its 11th win by three points or fewer -- which did
not surprise him.
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Juwan Howard scored 14 of his team-high 20 points in the second half, and pulled down 14 rebounds.
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"Now we're understanding each other," he said. "We're just
going out, having fun and trying to play with each other
Following a timeout, All-Star Kevin Garnett
took the inbounds
pass but was forced to pass out of a double-team. The ball
wound up in the hands of Anthony Peeler
, who had hit
consecutive 3-pointers to give Minnesota a 87-83 lead with
under a minute left.
"On our last play we want to get the ball to Kevin and let him
make a decision," Minnesota coach Flip Saunders said.
But Peeler's short jumper from the left side rimmed out.
Denver's Juwan Howard
grabbed the rebound and let the clock run
"They trapped, we swung the ball," added Garnett, who recorded
his 53rd double-double with 21 points and 18 rebounds. "AP had
a shot, he missed it and then we didn't get a second."
"Defense always wins ball games and it's been paying off for us
lately," Nuggets forward Donnell Harvey
said. "I know he's an
All-Star (Garnett). I just wanted to concentrate on my defense
and give a lot of effort."
Denver has been beset by injuries and has nothing to play for
as it will miss the playoffs for the seventh straight season.
But in the last month, the Nuggets have recorded victories over
contenders such as Portland, Seattle and Utah.
"We don't have anything to play for but it's fun being out on
the court making a difference in the playoff race," McCloud
said. "We're the spoilers right now."
"These are fun moments, with the game on the line, nip and
tuck," Denver coach Mike Evans added. "It's fun to see who's
going to step out in that situation. Vo (Lenard- had to take
the last shot. He really wanted that shot. The guys are really
making the effort, a good intense game with good effort."
Luckily for the rest of the Western Conference, only two of
Denver's last seven games are against playoff teams. But
Minnesota has to close out its season against the pesky
Nuggets. The Wolves are fifth in the West, five games behind
San Antonio, but now only one game ahead of Portland, which defeated the Knicks at home.
"We have to come out with more urgency," Garnett said. "We need
to prepare ourselves for the next level and as a team we're not
doing it. At times they played harder than us and at times they
executed better than us."
"We have been up and down all year," Peeler added. "We can't
dwell on something like this. We need to make sure we're
prepared for the playoffs. You can't let them hang around like
that and it bit us in the foot at the end of the game."
The Wolves lost eight of their first nine games last month and
had their grasp on the final home-court seed erased while the
Spurs reeled off 13 straight wins in March.
The Nuggets used a 10-0 run in midway through the third quarter
to take a 61-56 lead. But shortly thereafter, Minnesota
switched to a zone defense, which gave the Nuggets fits.
Denver had just one foul shot in a span of four minutes before
Howard converted a reverse layup with 2:12 left.
Garnett tied the contest with a tip-in and Peeler drilled a
3-pointer from the right corner to give the Wolves an 84-81
lead with 59 seconds to go.
After Howard got the Nuggets within 84-83 with a pair of foul
shots, Peeler drilled another 3-pointer from the same spot on
Minnesota's next trip.
Garnett and Wally Szczerbiak
combined to make 16-of-31 shots
but just 6-of-16 in the second half.