Denver 109, San Antonio 96

DENVER, March 7 (AP) -- These Denver Nuggets are starting to show they could much more than the first-round fodder they always are in the playoffs.

Now, if they can just make it that far.

Allen Iverson scored 29 points despite spraining his right ring finger in the first half and the Nuggets ended San Antonio's 11-game winning streak, 109-96, on Friday night.

"It's just because our backs are against the wall," Iverson said after Denver's second big win over a nemesis (Phoenix) in 48 hours. "We understand that every night we have to come in here and play hard and play together and not take any possessions off. We know how serious it is in the West, and if we don't get our act together it's going to be a chance we're not going to be in the playoffs.

"And with our roster ... there's no way we shouldn't be in the playoffs."

Can you imagine? With two All-Star starters in Iverson and Carmelo Anthony and the reigning defensive player of the year in Marcus Camby?

The Nuggets sure can't fathom it.

They're off to their best start in 20 years, but even at 37-24, they're on the fringe of the wild Western Conference playoff picture, remaining one game behind Golden State for the eighth spot heading into the final six weeks.

X-rays were negative on Iverson's finger. He was injured when Tony Parker jammed the ball back into his right hand in the first half. Iverson said it was sore and he knew it would bother him Saturday night but doubted it would keep him out of the Nuggets' game against Northwest Division-leading Utah.

Anthony also is listed as probable against the Jazz after bruising his left knee.

He overcame a bad first half (1-for-7 from the floor) to finish with 25 points as the Nuggets won for the 13th time in their last 15 games at the Pepsi Center, which was rocking like it hadn't since Denver faced San Antonio in the playoffs last season.

In overcoming an eight-point halftime deficit with a dominating second half, the Nuggets swept the Spurs at home for the first time since 1988-89. Last month, they beat the Spurs 80-77. This one was more of Denver's preferred style, with lots of running and gunning -- and everybody got into the act.

Eduardo Najera tied his career high with 19 points and fellow reserve J.R. Smith added 15 to spark Denver's second-half surge. Smith's 3-pointer from the top of the key after Najera tipped a rebound to him made it 96-81 with 6 minutes left.

"That might be the best game I've seen Eddie play," said Nuggets coach George Karl, who had plenty of things to smile and brag about on this night.

"The third quarter, the defense was great and never really slacked off," Karl said. "Maybe a couple of times in the fourth quarter when we had a lead and let them have some easy baskets, but a hell of a win."

Manu Ginobili scored 24 points and Tim Duncan added 23 for the Spurs, who fell to 9-4 in the second game of back-to-backs despite arriving in the Mile High City well-rested.

None of them played more than 28 minutes in coasting to a win over Indiana in San Antonio on Thursday night, and coach Gregg Popovich also had a chance to rest his vocal cords -- he was ejected in the second quarter for arguing a no-call against Pacers forward Mike Dunleavy.

San Antonio fell a half game behind the Lakers for the top spot in the West. "We're not at the same level we were at last year at this time, even though we seem to be situated relatively well in the West," Popovich said. "This team isn't as good as last year's team. We have significant improvement that we have to make both mentally and physically if we're going to be able to contend for the championship."

Notes: F Nene, who is recovering from testicular cancer and recently underwent chemotherapy, was on the bench in a suit for the first time since undergoing surgery on Jan. 14. Coach George Karl said Nene will resume traveling with the Nuggets when they embark on a five-game Eastern Conference swing on March 18. The team still is holding out hope he will return to action this season. ... The Spurs and Nuggets wrap up their season series Monday night in San Antonio.


Copyright 2008 by STATS LLC and Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and Associated Press is strictly prohibited