New Orleans/Oklahoma City 99, Denver 89

OKLAHOMA CITY, Dec. 29 (AP) -- If Allen Iverson was tired, he wasn't saying so after struggling in the Denver Nuggets' loss to the New Orleans Hornets.

Iverson scored 21 points but was just 6-of-22 from the field, including a number of fourth-quarter misses that helped the Hornets rally for a 99-89 victory Friday night.

The Nuggets didn't arrive at their hotel until 5 a.m. after escaping a snowstorm in Denver following their victory over Seattle on Thursday night. After leading 81-76, Denver scored just eight points in the final 9+ minutes.

"There's no excuses. That was a game we were supposed to win,'' Iverson said. "I stunk it up. I can't play that way and expect us to win basketball games.''

Iverson had averaged 31 points in his first three games with Denver, but never got going against the Hornets in a matchup of depleted teams. New Orleans was without four of its top five offensive players, including Chris Paul. Denver also was four players short, including Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith, who are serving suspensions.

"We approached it the right way, we knew they were going to come out and fight without their guys,'' Iverson said. "We just couldn't get it done. We struggled so bad offensively, and in the fourth quarter we just couldn't get it done defensively.''

Rasual Butler scored 20 points, including a big three-point play in the closing minutes, as the Hornets ended a three-game losing streak. Devin Brown, picked up as a free agent a week ago, had 19 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists while helping guard Iverson at the other end. Desmond Mason scored 17.

Earl Boykins led the Nuggets with 26 but scored just eight in the second half.

Butler made a 3-pointer to cap a 10-2 run that gave New Orleans an 86-83 lead. Iverson's two free throws with 2:24 to play brought the Nuggets within 88-87, but they didn't score again until the final seconds.

Butler converted his three-point play for a 91-87 lead, and after Iverson's turnover, found Tyson Chandler on a cut to the basket that pushed the lead to six with 1:39 left.

Chandler then blocked two straight shots by Eduardo Najera, leading to a drive by Mason that gave the Hornets a 95-87 lead with just under a minute left.

"We tried to keep Allen out of the paint as much as possible and make their guys shoot jump shots,'' Hornets coach Byron Scott said. "I wanted us to contest their shots a little more. We needed to be a little bit closer to those guys, and I think that affected them.''

Boykins made a jumper and a driving shot in a 6-0 run that gave the Nuggets their 81-76 lead. But he and Iverson took turns missing from the perimeter during the next four minutes as the Hornets rallied.

Boykins scored 16 in the second quarter. He had 12 of the Nuggets' first 15 second-quarter points to keep Denver in front, and later added four straight in a 7-0 spurt that gave them an eight-point advantage.

Notes: Najera, who played his college ball at Oklahoma, secured about 30 tickets for friends and relatives. Najera makes his home in Edmond, just north of Oklahoma City. ... Nuggets coach George Karl said he heard from several former coaches and players after picking up his 800th victory Thursday night. Mitch Kupchak told him "there was a day he thought I wouldn't get eight.'' ... The Hornets won for just the fourth time in 14 games in December.


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