DENVER, April 17 (Ticker) -- The next time the Denver Nuggets are at home, they better give a more inspired performance.

Juwan Howard scored a season-high 31 points and helped the Houston Rockets erase a large deficit down the stretch in an 86-83 victory over the Nuggets, who have lost three straight since clinching the Northwest Division title.

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"This means a lot to us," Howard said. "It feels great to get a victory. We lost four in a row before this and it felt like an eternity. Night after night we have come up short, but tonight we hung in there and didn't give up."

With the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference postseason locked up and a home playoff game on the horizon, Denver dropped the first two of its slide by an average of 19.5 points. It appeared to reverse the trend Monday before an embarrassing collapse in its home finale.

"We realize they weren't playing their best guys out there at the end," Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy said. "But you feel a lot better about yourself when you win than when you lose."

After DerMarr Johnson's layup gave the Nuggets an 81-68 lead with 4:22 left, rookie Luther Head responded with one of his own to kick off the Rockets' 18-2 run to end the game. Howard had seven points in the burst, including a jumper with 19 seconds left that pulled his team within 83-82.

Denver guard Howard Eisley lost the ball moments later, leading to a dunk by rookie Chuck Hayes that handed Houston its first lead of the game. Marcus Camby missed a jumper on the other end with six seconds left and Eisley fouled Rafer Alston in the rebounding action.

Alston buried both free throws and Camby missed a wild 3-point attempt at the buzzer as the Nuggets finished 26-15 at home. They will host either Memphis or the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round of the playoffs.

"I thought we had the game won but we went on a complete dry spell," Nuggets coach George Karl said. "I felt to put (star forward Carmelo Anthony) back in the game at the end would of been irresponsible of me. My team is hungry for the playoffs, maybe we need a fresh challenge."

A game after being benched in a listless performance, Anthony scored 22 points for Denver. However, he did not play in the fourth quarter.

"I can't sit around and pout because I didn't get to go out there and take the last shot," Anthony said. "It's a lose-lose situation, especially if I go out there and miss. I think this is our wakeup call."

After Johnson's layup, the Nuggets missed seven straight shots from the floor and turned the ball over four times.